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Seven Days in the Art World [Kindle Edition]

Sarah Thornton
4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (101 customer reviews)

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Book Description

A fly-on-the-wall account of the smart and strange subcultures that make, trade, curate, collect, and hype contemporary art.


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 alternative religion.


In a series of beautifully paced narratives, Sarah Thornton investigates the drama of a Christie's auction, the workings in Takashi Murakami's studios, the elite at the Basel Art Fair, the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, the competition behind an important art prize, life in a notorious art-school seminar, and the wonderland of the Venice Biennale. She reveals the new dynamics of creativity, taste, status, money, and the search for meaning in life. A judicious and juicy account of the institutions that have the power to shape art history, based on hundreds of interviews with high-profile players, Thornton's entertaining ethnography will change the way you look at contemporary culture.



Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The hot, hip contemporary art world, argues sociologist Thornton, is a cluster of intermingling subcultures unified by the belief, whether genuine or feigned, that nothing is more important than the art itself. It is a conviction, she asserts, that has transformed contemporary art into a kind of alternative religion for atheists. Thornton, a contributor to Artforum.com and the New Yorker, presents an astute and often entertaining ethnography of this status-driven world. Each of the seven chapters is a keenly observed profile of that world's highest echelons: a Christie's auction, a crit session at the California Institute of the Arts and the Art Basel art fair. The chapter on auctions (where one auction-goer explains, [I]t's dangerous to wear Prada.... You might get caught in the same outfit as three members of Christie's staff) is one of the book's strongest; the author's conversations about the role of the art critic with Artforum editor-in-chief Tim Griffin and the New Yorker's Peter Schjeldahl are edifying. Thornton offers an elegant, evocative, sardonic view into some of the art world's most prestigious institutions. 8 illus. (Nov.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

*Starred Review* Art and business, personal quests and personality cults, big bucks and the triumph of concept over beauty, being cool and in the know—these are the cardinal points in the contemporary art world. Enter Thornton, an art historian and sociologist with moxie and a brilliant game plan. Willing to ask obvious questions, she infiltrates the seven circles of this competitive realm. An astute observer and stimulating storyteller whose crisp sentences convey a wealth of information, Thornton marvels at the military precision of a Christie’s auction and the wild improvisation of an art-school critique.  On to Art Basel, a major international art fair where the “hard buy” rather than the hard sell is the rule since an artist’s reputation is tied to those who own his or her work. Thornton witnesses the final stage in the judging and presentation of the Turner Prize, watches editors at work at Artforum, attends the coveted Venice Biennale, and spends a dizzying day with the wizardly artist-entrepreneur Takashi Murakami. Thornton’s uniquely clarifying dispatches from the art front glimmer with high-definition profiles of artists, dealers, critics, and collectors, and grapple with the paradoxes inherent in the transformation of creativity into commodity. --Donna Seaman

Product Details


Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
104 of 110 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fantastic Read October 31, 2008
Format:Hardcover
Sarah Thornton's book offers an attentive, ethnographic eye to art, artists, and the world in which they exist. She writes clearly and with great attention to detail not only to the art, but the people and super-sized personalities that they house. This and her access to many of the major art events in the world (Basel etc.) kept me turning to the next page.

At one point I was a little wary of her comparisons of art to a sort of religion for some (thought it was overstated), but her arguments are strong and persuasive and she's definitely changed my mind. Also, the reader doesn't finish this book with a full understanding why some art is valued as much as it is. (But honestly, I didn't expect this. That's an answer we may never have.)

All-in-all, I have to agree with the Publisher's Weekly review above on auctions and the book as a whole. Thornton truly offers an "...elegant, evocative, sardonic view into some of the art world's most prestigious institutions."

$12 Million Stuffed Shark was the book that started this whole art book kick I'm currently on and I had to know more about the hidden quirkiness of this ever-growing area of interest. This was the next must-have on my list and I wasn't let down.
Highly recommended.
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53 of 54 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars Being "in" isn't the same as being "insightful." November 21, 2011
By REC
Format:Hardcover
I asked two people about this book before reading it. A woman who worked at Sotheby's said it amounts to gossipy beach reading for a future gallery intern. The other, who is an arts journalist herself, said it was great.

It certainly offers a snapshot overview of key practices within the art world. However, the author lacks any sense of analytical distance that could offer true insight, this coupled with a tinge of self-absorption that lets the reader know just how "in" she actually is, when that doesn't really need to be a subject. (For example, she refers to Robert Storr, previous director of the Museum of Modern Art, as "Rob" Storr" and then waxes poetic about how much she enjoyed swimming in an exclusive pool at a 5 star hotel in Venice.)

The book concludes with her explanation of "ethnography" and her chosen research methods, which seems to lend academic authority to the work, yet remains unconvincing. The book is basically thrilling tale of the lives of precious elites who are extremely interesting and beyond the reach of plebs like you (but not her).

However, as a practicing artist in NYC, I found aspects of the book that treated the artist's side of art world disappointing. For example, I've been through and conducted many an academic critique. Thorton's treatment of the art critique hardly deals with the art at all or what was said about it, and simply narrates in detail the mood of the room, how people shuffle about, etc. I guess the crit she visited was simply that boring, but I've been in many when people breakdown, some cry, some argue, get nasty and go into hysterics. Her crit was dull.

Another chapter, the most disappointing, was the "the studio visit.
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54 of 58 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent guide to today's wacky art world November 26, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
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.
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20 of 22 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Week of Art November 5, 2008
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Those interested in entering the frenetic international art world, or simply interested in its current goings on, should buy and read Sarah Thornton's book.

It coupled with "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark" by Don Thompson would be a great two volume present for any aspiring artist, museum curator, or art-gallery owner of your acquaintance.

Ms. Thornton has a good ear for dialogue and a sharp eye for the telling detail. She, while quite capable of the pointed comment, is obviously fond of most of the various people who derive their living from art at the edge and is quite respectful of their work.

(I personally would much rather possess one of J.M.W. Turner's paintings rather than any two of the art works by recent Turner Prize contestants. The Turner Prize contest being described on one of the seven days referred to in this book's title and named for the great English painter of seascapes.)
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
3.0 out of 5 stars iNTERESTING BUT NOTHING NEW SO MANY OTHER BOOKS HAVE BEEN ...
iNTERESTING BUT NOTHING NEW SO MANY OTHER BOOKS HAVE BEEN WRITTEN ON THIS SUBJECT THIS ONE DOES NOT ADD ANY NEW INSIDE IN THE COMPLICATED ART WORLD
Published 3 days ago by the architect
5.0 out of 5 stars Anyone who is interested in pulling back the curtain on the mystique...
After watching the television show Downton Abbey, I have become fascinated by the concept, lifestyle, and values of Old Money Families. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Reader
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Awesome condition
Published 1 month ago by Rocky
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great book, very funny.
Published 1 month ago by erendira Guerra
4.0 out of 5 stars A Fun Romp
This was a fun romp. Some essays were a bit simplistic - The Crit was probably not typical to many art school, and the artist studio not typical to most artists' studios you are... Read more
Published 1 month ago by CHL
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
fascinating reveal of the art world and a breezy, interesting read
Published 1 month ago by anon
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Seven Days in the Art World is my favorite book. A must read!!
Published 2 months ago by Bear Bird
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A week is a long time in Art.
Published 2 months ago by DM
5.0 out of 5 stars Must read for any artist. Engrossing, no matter ...
Must read for any artist. Engrossing, no matter how much art history you've studied and how familiar you are with the current industry.
Published 2 months ago by Elise Pace
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
The real story of the contemporary art world today, a little bit of shock
Published 4 months ago by Joel Gilman
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More About the Author

Sarah Thornton is a freelance writer who contributes to The New Yorker, BBC-TV, and Artforum.com. She has degrees in art history and sociology. She lives in London.

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