Steve Martin – Art Collector

Steve Martin. Background image: Stanton MacDonald-Wright. Synchromy, Cubist Head, 1916

Steve Martin has long guarded his private self. Perhaps most guarded was his collection of modern art, referred to in interviews but the scope of which was unknown except by close friends.

Few public glimpses have been given of what lies behind the facade of the wise-cracking film star. Acquainted with fame early on for mocking the commercialism of the century’s biggest blockbuster art show; today, Martin acquires new-found fame for his collection of Modern Masters while expounding on a supercilious art world.

With writings that include the play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, the novella, Shopgirl, and recently, the novel, An Object of Beauty (a narrative of dispassionate avarice and narcissism in an industry trades fine art works analogous to Wall Street stock machinations. It chronicles New York City’s 1990s art brokers, Sotheby’s auctions, uptown New York galleries, and downtown Chelsea galleries. Martin’s signature humor, given voice by an ambitious young woman, recounts clever exchanges, spotlights power auctions, gallery openings, and even provides a small treatise on Warhol), informs us this Long Beach State College philosophy major, who considered becoming a professor, is a sharp observer of the wry discourse of life.

With the opening of The Private Collection of Steve Martin (April 2001, Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art), an incomparable view of what Martin has the good fortune to enjoy on a daily basis on the walls of his home in Southern California was made available to the general public. “This is the first time he’s let the collection be on view, and it’s most likely going to be the only time,” said Kathy Crewell, Bellagio Gallery of Fine Art Director. Martin gave no interviews to publicize the exhibit.

“Collecting art is my biggest hobby,” Martin told Time magazine’s Richard Corliss during a 1987 interview. “I love them at least partly because this art is so different from what I do that it’s an escape for me. Paintings exist in space; show business exists in time. I like to sit down … and look at the paintings. Sometimes I feel so lucky to own them. It’s like, good grief, these things are so beautiful — how did this happen?”

“Great paintings,” says Steve Martin, “live on because they’re not quite explicable.”

Steve Martin in Roxanne.

Belying his comedic reputation, Martin’s collection includes the psycho sexual suburban drama of Eric Fischl, the classical modernism of Picasso, and the quiet introspection of Edward Hopper. We are surprised. Who knew Roxanne’s hero is a world class collector of Modern Masters? Because an art collection is a revealing thing, here, we are permitted a glimpse into the personal aesthetics of Martin’s all-time American comic genius. A quick scan of the works displayed show Martin’s wide-ranging taste.

Consisting of 28 works by 19 artists in various mediums, the exhibition (and the collection) made eclectic jumps across various art movements, decades and countries. The oldest pieces were by French painter Georges Seurat Woman Reading (c. 1883), and Man Sitting Reading on a Terrace (c. 1884). Spanish artist Pablo Picasso is represented by two works, Nude (pencil, 1919) and Seated Woman (1938). British artist Francis Bacon, is represented by Study for Portrait (1966), his compatriot, David Hockney with Little Splash (1966) and Andy Warhol (1974).

Edward Hopper, Captain Uptons House, 1927. Collection of Steve Martin.

Most of the artists in Martin’s collection are American. He selected three works by Eric Fischl, Barbeque (1982), Truman Capote in Hollywood (1988) and Steve (1998) with works by Willem de Kooning Two Women (c. 1952), Edward Hopper Captain Upton’s House (1927), and Hotel Window (1955), Roy Lichtenstein Ohhh … Alright … (1964), Cindy Sherman Untitled Film Still (1979), Robert Crumb Weirdo No. 8 (no date) and actor-painter Martin Mull’s Birthday Boy XI (2000).

Other works in his collection include Stanton MacDonald-Wright’s Synchromy, Cubist Head (c. 1916); Vija Celmins: Untitled (1980); Charles Demuth: In Vaudeville: Soldier and Girl Friend (pencil and watercolor, 1915); Lucian Freud: Naked Girl (1966); April Gornick: Light After Heat (1998); John Graham: Eyes Astray (Pystis Sophia) (1955); Neil Jenney: Acid Story (1983-84); John Koch: Lovers (1970); David Park: Two Women (1957); and James Gale Tyler: Ship at Sea (we are told that this first purchase, when Martin was 21, is a well executed little oil painting, still worth, as Martin explains, with inflation, the $750 he paid for it.)

Additional to presenting the exhibition, Martin wrote the text to the exhibition’s catalog, “Kindly Lent Their Owners,” and co-wrote his narration for an audio tour with the New Yorker’s art writer and critic, Adam Gopnik.

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Martin comes by his interest in art honestly. The art works are not just an investment, something to brag about to his friends or part of an ‘image.’ He’s writes in the catalog, “I would like to tell you that I’m showing these pictures because I feel a need to share them with the public, that I can no longer hoard them away, that I can’t continue for one more second to keep their radiance to myself.” And further states, “I wish I could say that … wouldn’t I be swell? But I will tell you the real reason I have agreed to show these pictures in Las Vegas: it sounds like fun.”

additional reviews: Las Vegas Sun, NY Times, LA Times



  1. I would like to send Mr.Martin samples of my art. How can I get an e mail address? Thanks.

  2. Steve Martin truly is a Renaissance Man. Thanks for sharing.

  3. I’ve read Object of Beauty a couple of times and wondered how Mr. Martin got the knowledge that he has about art.


  1. […] Martin: A self confessed lover of modern art, collecting art is Martin’s “biggest hobby“. In 2001 the comedian opened up his collection to the general public at the Bellagio Gallery […]

  2. […] Hopper, a documentary film narrated by actor, art collector and musician Steve Martin, was produced by the National Gallery of Art for an major exhibition there in 2007 that included 48 […]

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