Top critical review
90 of 93 people found this helpful
Being "in" isn't the same as being "insightful."
on November 21, 2011
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." Her single visit was with Takashi Murakami, whose studio practice so radically different from almost any other artist on earth it's essentially irrelevant "ethnographically." One quote claims Murakami's operation makes Warhol's Factory look like a lemonade stand. He employs dozens of people on two continents and travels so much he rid himself of an actual home. Fascinating, yes. Helpful for understanding how studio visits function within professional art practices, not at all. If you want to know what studio visits are like, this chapter will be misleading.
I recommend the book as being entertaining and mostly informative, yet the author mistakes being "in" with being "insightful" and the reader should keep this in mind.