Book Review: Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton

10Dec08

By Emily Waldorf

I have enjoyed reading Sarah Thornton’s insightful freelance pieces on the art world for quite some time, so you can imagine my delight when her new book, Seven Days in the Art World, was published.  The material is based on over 250 interviews with a powerful cast of characters including dealers, auction house specialists, curators, collectors, and of course, artists (isn’t that what it is all about, after all?).

She documents a Christie’s sale in New York, an art school “crit” at California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, high-stakes collectors at Art Basel, London’s über competitive Turner Prize, behind-the-scenes at Artforum magazine, a studio visit with Takashi Murakami, and the delights of the Venice Biennale.

In her article, “Terms of Art,” in The New York Times,  Mia Fineman endorses Ms. Thornton’s book as an entertaining and incisive read.  She begins her article by comparing the entertainment industry’s famously shallow ways to those of the contemporary art world.  She writes:  

7dayscover-us1

In an interview with BBC, Sarah Thornton describes the art market as a "belief structure for atheists" that has increasingly penetrated the "cultural mix."

“Hollywood, it has been said, is like high school with money: cliquish, catty and status-obsessed, awash in insecurity and plagued by conflicting desires to stand out and to fit in. The same might be said of the contemporary art world, particularly during the glitzy boom years chronicled by Sarah Thornton…what she (Thornton) learned, among other things, is that wealthy collectors buy expensive works of art for a variety of reasons — vanity, social status, an appetite for novelty and, most important of all, an acute excess of money. As one of her auction-house informers bluntly puts it, “After you have a fourth home and a G5 jet, what else is there?”

Though reading about the art boom’s over-the-top antics and conspicuous consumption of the past few years can seem like a shallow pursuit given the current economy, Thornton’s clinical dissection of human nature in the most rarified of circles proves that animal instincts might be more exaggerated at the top.  A very worthwhile and tongue-in-cheek lesson in our unstable economic times.

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