Seven Days in the Art World

by: Sarah Thornton (0)

"An indelible portrait of a peculiar society." ―Vogue

Sarah Thornton's vivid ethnography―an international hit, now available in twenty translations―reveals the inner workings of the sophisticated subcultures that make up the contemporary art world. In a series of day-in-the-life narratives set in New York, Los Angeles, London, Basel, Venice, and Tokyo, Seven Days in the Art World explores the dynamics of creativity, taste, status, money, and the search for meaning in life.

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The Reviews

This book helps us understand how confused the elitist tendencies of the art establishment have made the world of art. But it is also misleading - because the topic is NOT the "Art World". Ms. Thornton covers only that segment of art that she enjoys - then claims it’s exceptionally important. She also fails to be a neutral writer or ethnographer.This book is not ethnography. Ethnography involves a disinterested observer (or observer with a pre-existing opinion taking an intentionally neutral position) and going into an environment with people to study their interactions. First, and foremost, to be valid ethnography it requires that the writer describe how the specific population segment they study relates to other populations.It’s also not ethnography in that it’s mostly record of interviews - interviews that don’t add much. That it’s reporting isn’t surprising - her career has been spent reporting. But the claim to be much more is specious.Ms. Thornton does admit in her afterword to the later edition to being an enthusiast for contemporary art - and seems incapable of understanding or explaining where contemporaray fits up against a much, much larger world of art and set of artists. (I suppose it was a great sales tactic though for hyping up the book and getting it bought by a publisher.)She also fails to sort out how to observe neutrally - no matter her opinion. Many of the characters she’s with assume persona’s of "edgy" while truly being pretty mundane - a fact she misses. She also fails to see (apparently) that they are rehashing essentially the same things that have been made for nearly 70 years...that little of the theories postulated by the collectors, critics, or artists are “new”.The writing covering the first two days is quite compelling and I enjoyed those parts (tho’ frustrated by her inability to be an ethnographer). The remaining 5 days were pretty dull writing - but I wanted to make sure I read through each of the events. I suppose her “studio visit” was most hilariously odd. It wasn’t a visit to a studio - but to a factory with the tour given by the CEO. Yet rather than search ethnographically to understand and give insight to this variation, she wholeheartedly embraces the CEO.As a last thought, she is fascinated by art that has the approval of this elite crowd - it’s the art she embraces. What strikes me is that she seems to lack the interest and enthusiasm for art that doesn’t have that approval - art which probes the depths of the human and expresses what’s essentially human. Certainly we could all argue about what makes something to be art and never resolve that question - because everyone answers the question differently. But this fact is what is so sadly missing from this book - the only important question in the true world of art.

About the author's experience auditing certain different high profile events in the art world and for the most part, it makes you want to hire a hitman for the poor rich jerks covered in this book (if only you had the money to).Some actual passages in this book:""We have entered a macroevent that is uncharted, a scale of expansion unseen since the Renaissance!" The older collector frowns. "Nothing goes on and on," he counters. "I'm feeling bearish. I've only spent, I don't know, two million dollars since January."""Still, because she and her husband own only about four hundred major works (as opposed to a couple of thousand) and because they don't usually spend more than 300,000 euros (rather than several million) on any given piece, she does not always find herself at the top of the international pecking order.""I can't hear what they're saying, but from the exchange of looks and the glance over at me, I can tell the dealer is asking something like "Is she the latest addition to your collection?""Listen, the writing itself is good, and if you like reading about pretentious soul-deaddening tripe you deal with in the (high) art world, you might enjoy this book. If not, STAY AWAY AND REMEMBER TO EAT THE RICH.

This book was just okay...nothing terribly interesting about it. Overall, I enjoyed the chapter about the Christie's auction the most, as it seemed like a very entertaining "show". The chapter called "The Magazine" was so boring and esoteric that it was virtually unreadable. The rest of the chapters were alright, with a mix of interesting and mind-numbingly dull sections....(a bit how I feel going to a modern-art gallery itself). I did expect to learn more about the art world than I did in this book, so it ended up being fairly disappointing in that respect. The saddest aspect of all is that I had a suspicion confirmed...the art world at this level is controlled by the rich and elite, so it's just another big corporate business! (Just read the chapter about the "artist" Murakami and you'll see what I mean).

This book allowed a glimpse into the art world and how it works. Was a depressing read and I kept hearing my parents voices in my head saying "All you get is an overpriced piece of paper to hang on the wall when you graduate and a lot of debt!" per art school. This book and the biography on Jean Michel Basquiat by Phoebe Hoban was an ice bath wakeup when it came to the world of art.

This book is an ethnography (the writer as participant/observer) about the art world. Its message about art as a commodity and the art scene as a performance piece in itself came as no surprise to me as my husband is an artist. At one time we lived in New York and he was represented by a New York Gallery. When you read this book you will understand why we moved back to Alaska. Being an artist in the art world is like wearing a sign on your back that says 'hit me' or else feeling like you're some kind of wind-up toy that must perform in a set way.The book is divided into seven chapters, each elucidating one specific aspect of the art world. These chapters are:The Auction - About a Christie's big-time auction in New YorkThe Crit - About an art criticism class at CalArtsThe Fair - The Basel Art Fair in SwitzerlandThe Prize - The in's and out's of the Turner prize, awarded by Britain's Tate MuseumThe Magazine - About Artforum, an art magazineThe Studio Visit - Takeshi Murakami's studio and his work as an artist and entrepreneurThe Biennale - The Venice Biennale (or Studio 54 revisited)The commodification of art along with the hierarchy of dealers, collectors, curators and artists is in place all along the art feeding chain. While it was no surprise to me, it edified the sad state of the affairs in the art world. This book was written during the economic and art boom so the situation has likely changed along with the expendable money available to hedge fund founders and the general public.I was amazed to find out that one can not just buy art. Dealers like to choose who they will sell art to - they want art to go to an A-list collector and often collectors get on line to buy a piece of art by a particular artist. Production often does not meet the needs of consumption.If you are interested in details of the art world, you might enjoy this book. If you're easily jaded or have a weak stomach, I'd skip it. It goes into all the gory details of every aspect of art, from the artist who produces the work on up (or is it down)

This is, hands-down, the single best guide for outsiders to the inner life of the art world, from the fledgling artists hoping to make their mark to the affluent collectors and the dealers, curators and advisors who surround them.Her structure is carefully chosen and works beautifully -- breaking the art world down into seven parts, each devoted to a specific group or dimension (the auction, the studio visit, the art fair, etc.), she sheds light on the characters and issues that arise in the context of each. There is enough overlap to make this structure function -- for instance, we encounter gallerists Jeff Poe and Tim Blum first at ArtBasel, then rejoin them as part of her chapter on visiting Takashi Murakami's studio(s), where Poe and Blum discuss an upcoming retrospective with the artist and museum curators. To me, the most intriguing and enlightening part of this structure was the way it shifted, from one chapter to the next, from a view of the art from the outside (the perspective of the collector or the critic, say) to the inside (the creative process itself.) So, a chapter about the "crit" process at CalArts is followed immediately by one about the vast artworld schmoozefest that is ArtBasel (with the NetJets booth and the omnipresent champagne).Thornton has an eye for that kind of telling detail that only the best journalists possess and a knack for knowing (most of the time) how to use it best. For instance, in the studio visit chapter, she spots the passports of Blum and Poe are crammed full of visas and entry and exit stamps -- not just a random observation but one that reflects the global nature of the art market itself, which requires its participants to dash from visiting a collector in Russia to an art fair in London and on to visit a studio in Beijing. The only downside of this "ethnographic" approach is that sometimes the details that she observes and includes as a result of this feel less useful -- we don't care how heavy her handbag begins to feel at ArtBasel, or how the Japanese car drivers in Toyama jump to open doors for visitors so that no fingerprint mars the shine on the car.I've attended a number of Christie's auctions, stuffed into the uncomfortable press section that Thornton describes so accurately, and watched the bidding process. Reading this section, I felt as if I were back there again, experiencing the moments of boredom and tension that she chronicles so compellingly. There is no disconnect between my experience and her portrayal of it -- just additional level of background detail that I had never appreciated before (such as the fact that Christopher Burge has nightmares of being caught naked or without his sale "book" in front of an audience of a thousand angry would-be bidders).The only area in which Thornton fails to deliver is describing the creative process itself in a way that the average reader will find comprehensible and compelling. But that, I suspect, is as much due to the inherent difficulty of discussing a visual art in words -- certainly, the young art students she profiles struggle as much themselves to do just this.What impressed me the most -- in addition to the high level of reporting and writing -- was Thornton's ability to weave a path through all the politics and ego that fills the art market (and makes comparable nonsense on Wall Street and in Washington look like child's play in comparison...) Even as she chronicles the auction scene, she doesn't get caught up in the buzz and excitement or fall victim to the too-easy trap of criticizing people for being willing to pay outrageous sums for works of art. She addresses those concerns, most effectively in an anecdote where one collector, charged with selling her parents' immense collection to create a charitable foundation, muses on the auction process: "It's been a real loss of innocence... When you think of all the good that money could do... Nobody in the auction room thinks about that." But Thornton doesn't dwell on that, any more than she succumbs to the gushing that is all too often part of the art market. It's an admirably balanced portrayal.All in all, a tour de force.Anyone looking for more insider-y glimpses of the art world might turn to  Collecting Contemporary , by a major collector, or to a novel penned by the wife of a hedge fund manager who is a force of sorts in the New York art scene:  Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him .

If "all the world's a stage" then Sarah Thornton's "Seven Days in the Art World" captures some entertaining performances by elitist cabals of the contemporary art world in seven acts. Over the span of five years, cultural sociologist Thornton visits seven different stages during the rise of mass contemporary art consumption: Christie's auction house in Manhattan; a critique session at a California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) seminar class in Los Angeles; Art Basel in Switzerland; Tate Museum's Turner Prize competition in London; Artforum magazine; Japanese artist/celebrity Takashi Murakami's studios; and Venice Biennale.Although Thornton's "participant observations" on the surface are predictable and reinforce the stereotypical attitudes and scenarios affixed to the "high class" art world, her insider access offers readers a closer look at the personas and relationship dynamics of those at the top of their game in the art market. Christopher Burge, Christie's chief auctioneer, with his script book in hand does a final rehearsal run in preparation for the night auction's bidding blitz. At Art Basel, Thornton meets Tim Blum and Jeff Poe, owners and art dealers of a Los Angeles gallery as they are installing their Japanese star Takashi Murakami's painting. Artists are rarely seen at auctions and artfairs where money does most of the talking for collectors on the prowl. (Many dealers and collectors maintain close relationships with one another as a way to buy-in and cultivate an artist's body of work.)Art dealers, collectors, curators, and writers are all taste-makers validating or shunning an artist and/or artwork's significance. Martin Creed, past Turner prize winner says to her, "If the artists create artworks, then the judges create a winner. Whoever they chose is a reflection of themselves." Prime space in terms of physical location at Art Basel and Venice Biennale or advertising in the Artforum magazine, vie for optimal promotion and branding.And if you were curious as to the players' positions and ranking, Thornton provides a telling snap shot as Murakami's entourage board an airplane. "The seat assignment offers a near-perfect representation of the hierarchies of the art world. Murakami sits by himself in 1A, a window seat in business class... Blum and Poe sit in 2C and 2D. The MOCA people are in economy, row 18. Desmarais is nearby, in 19. The six Kaikai Kiki staff members are aligned in row 43." Art can be a very lucrative business machine with the right combination of talent and invested supporting cast.The book portrays the upper-crust of the art world as a playground for self-satisfying, money seeking egos and art as a conversation, a religion, a representation of one's cultural worth. The actors also display the power and influence their position holds.Thornton's writing is free flowing and mostly easy to read aside from maybe the one too many name dropping encounters. She does describe the main characters that she interviews at length as some reappear in another scene. But readers are still expected to have some knowledge of the art world or enough interest to familiarize themselves with it.

Seven Days in the Art World
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