Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

Seven Days in the Art World

Named one of the best art books of 2008 by The New York Times and The Sunday Times [London]: “An indelible portrait of a peculiar society.”—Vogue The art market has been booming. Museum attendance is surging. More people than ever call themselves artists. Contemporary art has become a mass entertainment, a luxury good, a job description, and, for some, a kind of alternativ...

Title:Seven Days in the Art World
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Edition Language:English

Seven Days in the Art World Reviews

  • Heather

    I got to read an advanced copy of this book and write a blurb about it for the magazine. Sooo, not only did reading this book make me feel extremely cool, it was also a really enjoyable read. Thornton is a "cat on the prowl" in the most important (and impenetrable) centers of the contemporary art world. Her account is gossipy and educational. What could be more fun?

  • Arwen Downs

    I am sure that most readers of this book also chose it because we will never be able to attend a Christie's Post-war art auction, the Venice Bienniale, or the Basel Art Fair except vicariously through Sarah Thornton. Lucky for us, she does so with grace and wit and every other attribute I would wish to exhibit when in attendance at one of these prestigious events. Not to mention her uncanny knack for never forgetting an important face or name, which would certainly be my first failing point.

    The

    I am sure that most readers of this book also chose it because we will never be able to attend a Christie's Post-war art auction, the Venice Bienniale, or the Basel Art Fair except vicariously through Sarah Thornton. Lucky for us, she does so with grace and wit and every other attribute I would wish to exhibit when in attendance at one of these prestigious events. Not to mention her uncanny knack for never forgetting an important face or name, which would certainly be my first failing point.

    The social butterfly aspect aside (which is extremely useful in writing such a book, so it ought not be discounted), Thornton also does her homework and legwork - not only did she aggressively seek out many of her interviewees, but she also worked for a number of them for various lengths of time, most notably as a writer for Artforum.com.

    The icing on the cake (for me) that gained my unequivocal approval was Thornton's choice to interview Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic for the New Yorker who is my absolute favorite as far as art critics go. So I guess I am biased, although her lengthy visit to Murakami's studio had the opposite effect, as his attitude toward art, process, and life reinforces the distaste I have for him that began with my dislike of his artwork.

    But back to the book! I think it sums it up that Sarah Thornton treated both my favorite critic and one of my least favorite contemporary artists in ways that were engaging and has reinforced my fascination with the art world, despite all the flaws.

  • Jim

    In spite of her apparent hopes that this book might be a ethnology of the art world, it comes across a group of magazine articles that describe seven events -- an auction, an art fair, a biennial, etc. -- and how they contribute to the economics of the art world, how things are sold, and how reputations are established.

    Being relatively ignorant about any of this, I was surprised to discover that galleries at the upper echelons don't just sell to the first person willing to write a check, but loo

    In spite of her apparent hopes that this book might be a ethnology of the art world, it comes across a group of magazine articles that describe seven events -- an auction, an art fair, a biennial, etc. -- and how they contribute to the economics of the art world, how things are sold, and how reputations are established.

    Being relatively ignorant about any of this, I was surprised to discover that galleries at the upper echelons don't just sell to the first person willing to write a check, but look for a collector who plans to enhance the reputation of their artists through lending the art to public exhibitions and through his own reputation.

    Equally interesting, although not quite as informative, are the numerous semi-profound statements scattered throughout the book by various art world characters. One says without further explanation, "Georges Perec wrote a novel without the letter

    . I think we can learn from that." I don't know who this "we" is that he is talking about, but I am not one of them.

    I also enjoyed the visit to

    magazine, particularly the section where an editor suggests that at one period in its history the magazine suffered from "the wrong kind of unreadability." As someone who has struggled to get through an

    article, I am happy to know that they have now achieved the right kind of unreadability.

  • Carol

    Overview - It's a book about 7 different environments of the art world:

    * an auction (at Christie's in NYC) - below

    * a MFA crit session (at CalArt) -below

    * a visit to the Basel art fair (Switzerland)

    * the Turner prize in London

    * a visit to Artforum (magazine)

    * a visit to the studio of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami

    * a trip to the Venice Biennale

    Overall it was an easy read, but as an artist it bothered me.

    I have been to an art auction at Sothebys and have personally, gone through many criti

    Overview - It's a book about 7 different environments of the art world:

    * an auction (at Christie's in NYC) - below

    * a MFA crit session (at CalArt) -below

    * a visit to the Basel art fair (Switzerland)

    * the Turner prize in London

    * a visit to Artforum (magazine)

    * a visit to the studio of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami

    * a trip to the Venice Biennale

    Overall it was an easy read, but as an artist it bothered me.

    I have been to an art auction at Sothebys and have personally, gone through many critiques, so I could relate. What bothered me was that after an artist creates their "work of art", it becomes a "commodity" for the self-centered, big money "collectors". It's not really about the art but about money and being in the elitist clique.

    Initially I was reviewing each chapter until I got on the plane for a very long flight.

    Chapter 1 is what is happening in auction world -- the supply and demand of art, the different types of collectors and what "3 D" reasons (death, debt & divorce) would make a collector sell his art, why some things sells and others do not and the buzz and excitement of the auction floor of her experience at Christies in NYC. I have experienced an art auction at Sothebys in NYC. It is fast, shocking at times, always surprising and addicting! It was interesting to see a list of 9 living female artists who are now getting over a million dollars for their work. Paintings are still #1 medium especially with a "buxom female" being more popular than a male nude.

    Chapter 2 is all about "the Crit" (a seminar where MFA students present their work for critique from peers as well as the teacher). Thorton went to CalArts to observe Michael Asher who has been doing this with art students since 1974. It is an informal group with deep discussions. A crit can be painful when artists try to rational and defend their work. CalArts education is more focused on cerebral than talent of the hand. Interesting to me was Mary Kelly (a feminist conceptualist, who taught at many large institutions like CalArt, UCLA) who thought that it is fine for artists to have crits where they give an account of their intentions, but it shouldn't be the only way. Kelly says to her students "Never go to the wall text. Never ask the artist. Learn to read the work." I think everyone should "read the work" because we are all different and no two people will process the artwork the same.

  • Lobstergirl

    Thornton's narrative seemed to lose a little of its zest as it wended to a close. Early chapters on a Christie's auction of contemporary art, and a visit to the Art Basel fair were most interesting. It was instructive to learn how buying from a gallery is different from buying at auction, for example. But chapters on Takashi Murakami, the magazine

    , and the Venice Biennale were relatively lustreless, and Thornton felt too much

    the narrative; she spoke a lot in the first person, it was

    Thornton's narrative seemed to lose a little of its zest as it wended to a close. Early chapters on a Christie's auction of contemporary art, and a visit to the Art Basel fair were most interesting. It was instructive to learn how buying from a gallery is different from buying at auction, for example. But chapters on Takashi Murakami, the magazine

    , and the Venice Biennale were relatively lustreless, and Thornton felt too much

    the narrative; she spoke a lot in the first person, it was clear she had established friendships with many of the main players she was interviewing, and it was hard not to think of her as the pretty girl at the party, drawing the attention of elderly collectors at the auctions and fairs, swimming at the pool of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice with the large-bellied super-rich. In the chapter on

    ,

    critic Peter Schjeldahl's comments are actually a lot more interesting than the ones coming from the

    publishers or editors. Someone at Art Basel says perceptively, "The amount of art in the world is a bit depressing. The worst of it looks like art, but it's not. It is stuff cynically made for a certain kind of collector." For me Murakami's art falls in this category ("the worst" is a pretty big category, for me), but one doesn't get the sense that Thornton felt the same way as she wrote about Murakami.

  • Mary

    For someone who "writes about the art world and art market for many publications," Thornton asks some pretty lame questions. She seems, overall, clueless about art. Her deep, probing interview questions are "What do artists learn at art school? What is an artist? How do you become one? What makes a good one?"

    Seriously.

    Granted, the less the reader knows about art, I imagine, the more interesting the book would be.

    She loves describing what people are wearing, as in, "Gladstone is dressed entirely

    For someone who "writes about the art world and art market for many publications," Thornton asks some pretty lame questions. She seems, overall, clueless about art. Her deep, probing interview questions are "What do artists learn at art school? What is an artist? How do you become one? What makes a good one?"

    Seriously.

    Granted, the less the reader knows about art, I imagine, the more interesting the book would be.

    She loves describing what people are wearing, as in, "Gladstone is dressed entirely in black Prada." Everything is written in a forced present-tense, as if that would make it visceral and exciting instead of pretentious and dull. She writes choppy paragraphs quoting her interview subjects. Either quote them, or give us your interpretation of what they said, but please do not do both at the same time.

    Even if Thornton is showing us the truth, that a lot of the "art world" is pretentious, she misses deeper truths. At no time does she convey the depth of conviction that many artists have about their work, or how that depth of conviction might be shared by a viewer.

  • Troy

    I hate this book. Or more accurately, I hate what this book focuses on.

    Now I need to state that my hatred is pretty moronic. The book is titled

    , which very clearly labels it as a tourist's guidebook, so it might as well be labelled

    , or

    , or

    . It's

    , which is the length of time most tourists give to some "foreign locale." In seven days, you won'

    I hate this book. Or more accurately, I hate what this book focuses on.

    Now I need to state that my hatred is pretty moronic. The book is titled

    , which very clearly labels it as a tourist's guidebook, so it might as well be labelled

    , or

    , or

    . It's

    , which is the length of time most tourists give to some "foreign locale." In seven days, you won't really experience the destination, but you will see the same ridiculous highlights fellow tourists from the U.S., Germany, Australia, and the UK have seen.

    What I hate is the tourist highlights she focuses on. It's similar to a guidebook to NYC that focuses on the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, etc. All interesting, I suppose, but really boring and obvious tourist attractions that capture nothing of the workaday quotidian NYC; the NYC that NYers experience. The world of tourists and the world of NYers rarely interacts, unless a fat-ass tourist is in a NYers way while they're walking to work. "Hey, I'm

    heah!"

    The art world is a

    . It's a group of people in constant communication, talking and sharing and part of a community. There are several worlds within the art world, and Thornton focuses only on Power Institutions. When she does focus on individuals, she focuses on the "Big Names" and "Art Stars," which I know makes sense for a guide book, but really paints a false picture about the world the book is supposed to guide us through. As a tourist guide, it's hard to focus on the cool shit that is happening in some hidden neighborhood, where artists or musicians or dancers or whatever are making something interesting, but if you're guidebook is anything more than a schlocky checklist, then that is where the action is.

    She focuses on The Biggest Prize. The Most Influential Art Magazine. The Vastly Important Art Fair. And it's all bullshit. The value of art isn't created in The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, or The Biennale. It happens in the day to day. It happens in the neighborhoods that those artists live in; in the worlds they inhabit. Institutions, blue chip galleries, the Biennials, etc., all come after the fact. And

    they come before the fact, then the art world is fucked and dysfunctional (e.g. the long, sad, and boring time periods when Academic Art reigned).

    Basically, this book implies that value filters down from the top, which isn't true. The author tries to temper that implication by stating, several times, that it is a very complicated dialog with many voices in the mix, but she leaves out the quotidian in favor of the sexy Big Events, which have everything to do with Money and Power, and very little to do with art.

    A personal note: I have a few friends who are now successful artists, gallerists, critics, and curators. And I know a bunch of people who dropped out of the art world altogether (me included). And a few people who putter on with the occasional show or as an art professor at some university. But I watched the successful ascend, and it did NOT happen in The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, or The Biennale. It happened in two places: in the studio and in "the social scenes that artists live in." Most of the time, art is lonely. Until you're successful, you will work alone, or, at best, in a studio near a friend, who is also working alone. The time in a studio is insanely private, until you need assistants (which is another fucked-up topic entirely). But tons of time is spent with peers at each other's studios, getting high or drinking and looking at each other's work. Or more often, at a cafe or a bar, talking about process and gossiping and, "Have you seen Person X's new work?" The value of art accrues in the interstices, hidden away from the "sexy" power machines that Thorton covers in her book. The value of art happens as gossip between artists. And that talk flows to peers who are roughly the same age who have galleries or write for obscure web art publications. And that talk about who is good coalesces and congeals. And only after that gossipy talk has formed into blocks does it filter up to

    or a mid-list gallery, and only after years does that flow up to a spot at the Venice Biennale, or a prominent spot in a money gallery that can afford to go to Basel.

    This book is a snap shot of an art world that forgot (and continues to forget) that those massive Money and Cultural Institutions are barnacles on the vibrant ass of the art world. They, like the parasitical rich whose genitals are constantly slurped at, are after thoughts that claim glory, when the glory was already established. Yes, Art That Is Remembered will be remembered in part because of those boring Money and Cultural Institutions, but art that is good continues for centuries, long past the death of those institutions and rich people. More importantly, art is not accrued value through the barnacled institutions, but through the peer groups that the artists gestate in. And although that's a much harder world to guide someone through, that's the real world of the everyday, not the ridiculous world of the tourist looking at irrelevant relics to Power and Money.

  • Lance Charnes

    This is an anthropological study of a murky subculture given to bizarre rituals, riven by tribal conflict and prone to madness...the world of contemporary art. Sarah Thornton, our intrepid guide, comes at this woolly subject from different angles -- seven of them, to be precise, each set in a different city -- shining a light on the major clans and customs. The result is a surprisingly engaging account of how the frothiest end of the art market works (or doesn't), written in a way that a non-ins

    This is an anthropological study of a murky subculture given to bizarre rituals, riven by tribal conflict and prone to madness...the world of contemporary art. Sarah Thornton, our intrepid guide, comes at this woolly subject from different angles -- seven of them, to be precise, each set in a different city -- shining a light on the major clans and customs. The result is a surprisingly engaging account of how the frothiest end of the art market works (or doesn't), written in a way that a non-insider can understand.

    Thornton spends a day inside the New York branch of Christie's, one of the three major auction houses able to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of art in a single evening to the extraordinarily rich; a crit session at CalArts, where future artists learn how to disengage their thinking processes from the real world; opening day of the Venice Biennale, the art-themed amusement park for the very wealthy; and four other close encounters with the contemporary art scene. Her you-are-there approach is both vivid and clear. When we're not in the thick of things, she's telling us about conversations she's had with the market's movers and shakers that help explain what's going on. This is a reality show begging to be made: the camera follows Our Heroine as she scrambles through superstar pop-artist Takashi Murakami's studios, then cuts away to a talking-head interview with a guy who happens to be a top dealer or the publisher of the most influential art magazine in America, who explains it all for you.

    This book features a huge cast of characters. Owing to the incestuous nature of their world, they all know each other, attend the same parties, used to work in each others' galleries or newspapers, sometimes are (or were) married to each other, and speak the same obscure dialect of English. Thornton (a sometime reporter for

    ) does a good job differentiating the major players enough so that we can remember who they are when they pop up here and there. This crowd of characters is another reason this book really wants to be made into a reality show: instead of hillbillies with big beards or New Jersey midgets with precancerous tans,

    gives us a magazine publisher whose suits all come in primary colors, an art professor who teaches by not saying anything, megarich collectors, Turner Prize finalists who don't know whether they really want to win, and any number of other kinds of exotic fauna.

    The fifth star is missing because Thornton's prism has only seven sides, which leaves out a lot of the spectrum. While it's gratifyingly strange to spend time in Murakami's bizarre world, he's hardly a representative example of the non-celebrity working artist. We meet marquee-named dealers flitting about the edges of these vignettes, but never see what they do on a day-to-day basis, nor do we learn what life is like for the other 95% of gallerists and dealers. We're briefly exposed to the concept of private collectors starting their own museums to show off their prizes; it would have been interesting to watch that process play out in front of us. My own particular area of interest -- art crime -- never even gets mentioned; surely Thornton could've found a detective or insurance investigator to shadow for a day?

    is a cook's tour of the contemporary art scene's 1%, the part that generates headline nine-figure sales, receptions full of the glitterati, and incomprehensible statement art that will be coming soon to a museum near you. Don't expect to learn much about the workaday market and the not-famous people in it. Look at it as true-life science fiction -- a visit to a world full of alien creatures populating a parallel Earth on the opposite side of the Sun.

  • Justin Evans

    A fun, deceptively sophisticated jog through one

    aspect of "the art world." And that aspect is, overwhelmingly, the economic. This is a book about how rich people have nothing to do with their enormous amounts of money, so they spend it on objects that may or may not be of any aesthetic value. But they are great status markers. I mean, would you even go to someone's party if they didn't have a Jeff Koons? No way, right?

    The first few chapters--one at a contemporary art auction, when a

    A fun, deceptively sophisticated jog through one

    aspect of "the art world." And that aspect is, overwhelmingly, the economic. This is a book about how rich people have nothing to do with their enormous amounts of money, so they spend it on objects that may or may not be of any aesthetic value. But they are great status markers. I mean, would you even go to someone's party if they didn't have a Jeff Koons? No way, right?

    The first few chapters--one at a contemporary art auction, when at an MFA seminar, and one at an art fair--are really good. After that, it gets a little tedious, and nauseating, which is how people with so much money that they don't know what to do with it always make me feel, as well as people who structure their entire lives around giving said very wealthy people things to do with their money that aren't, e.g., paying taxes.

    Thornton makes no bones about the topic of this book; it is an ethnography, it is not at all interested in making aesthetic distinctions, and you'll have to decide for yourself if Takashi Murakami is interesting and if his work is worthwhile. I have a hard time believing that anyone could finish reading the book, however, without making a pretty strong aesthetic judgment on the people Thornton's writing about.

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