Woody Allen and Steve Martin are two of my favorite comedians. Though very different from each other, they share interests in music (jazz and bluegrass, respectively), slapstick, and art. On this latter interest, Martin is an informed, passionate advocate. His novel, Object of Beauty, satirizes the business of art (and the business of collecting art) while his play, Picasso at the Lapin Agile, uses an imagined dialogue between Picasso and Einstein (and others) to examine the nature of creativity, “genius”, and inspiration. Martin is himself a collector (Lichtenstein, Picasso, Hockney, Hopper, Ruscha) and occasional critic.
Allen, on the other hand, is less visually sympathetic. While he idealizes writers, singers, musicians and filmmakers in his work, artists and art lovers are harder to come by. That is, unless they’re being lampooned scenes like the one above from Play it Again, Sam. There are also some very funny scenes in Sleeper in which Allen’s character attempts to negotiate a modern chair, and Hannah and Her Sisters in which a temperamental artist (Max Von Sydow) berates a nouveau-riche collector exclaiming, “I don’t sell my painting by the yard!”.
Regardless of their differences, these two scenes are a couple of my favorite comedy bits to engage art criticism (not that there are many from which to choose). Both employ elaborate setup dialogue to deliver a simple, devastating punchline. Allen’s is characteristically existentialist. Martin’s, exquisitely absurdist.