Stephen Colbert talks art with Steve Martin, with help from Shepard Fairey et al.

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Steve Martin learned the hard way last week that live audiences don’t always appreciate lengthy discourses on the art world. The actor-comedian was at a talk at the 92nd Street Y in New York and spent much of the evening discussing all things art-related, tied to his new book, “An Object of Beauty.” Audiences were so unhappy with the serious talk that the 92nd Street Y reportedly offered everyone a refund.

On Wednesday night’s episode of “The Colbert Report” on Comedy Central, Martin found a crowd that was much more welcoming of his expertise as an art collector and connoisseur. Host Stephen Colbert presided over a mock art-valuation session in which he asked Martin how much he would pay for a Colbert portrait. (You can watch the segment in the clip above.)

When Martin replied that he wasn’t interested -- valuing the painting at about $19 -- Colbert introduced a series of renowned artists -- Frank Stella, Shepard Fairey and Andres Serrano -- who either offered commentary or provided their own embellishments to the portrait. (The moments were reminiscent of Woody Allen pulling Marshall McLuhan out of thin air in “Annie Hall.”)

Fairey took time to spray-paint the Colbert painting with his “Obey” logo. Serrano used a marker to transform Colbert into a Hitler-esque demagogue. Martin’s interest in the work appeared to grow as each artist added his own embellishment.


The lessons of the Colbert episode are manifold...

-- For starters, the public is actually interested in art and artists, despite what the 92nd Street Y might think. (Of course, it helps to make it funny and accessible.)

-- No surprise: Name brand is everything in the art world.

-- Artists crave publicity as much as actors.

-- Comedy Central needs to give Steve Martin his own show, pronto.

-- David Ng

Photo, above: Steve Martin on “The Colbert Report.” Credit: Comedy Central

Photo, below: Shepard Fairey. Credit: Kirk McKoy / Los Angeles Times


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