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Steve Martin Explains Self

04/17/1998 12:00AM

It seemed strange enough in 1998 when the Bellagio Hotel and Casino opened in Las Vegas and boasted that there in the land of the $1.99 all-you-can eat shrimp buffet, the resort would contain a world-class art museum. Stranger still when, recently, it was announced that the notoriously private art collector (and comic and writer and Oscar host of last week) Steve Martin, 55, would be exhibiting 28 pictures from his collection -- including Lichtensteins, Hockneys and Seurats -- at the Bellagio starting next Saturday. In an excerpt from the catalog to the exhibit that was printed in Sunday's New York Times, Martin mused on his gesture in an effort to explain why he was finally letting the public view his collection. "I would like," said Martin, "to talk about myself . . . I know what you're thinking: How can a Hollywood actor, who must be continually preoccupied with caring for others, take time out to talk about himself?" He spoke of collecting art for nearly 30 years and his need to keep it to himself. Only now, he says, "Maybe I've just relaxed . . . But I will tell you the real reason I have agreed to show these pictures in Las Vegas: It sounds like fun."

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