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Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton

June 6, 2010

Seven days in the Art World is a head-whirling tour of the myriad groups that drive today’s increasingly complicated contemporary art market. Author Sarah Thornton’s five year long foray into the depths takes you to a hierarchical Christie’s auction; a coffee-fueled crit session at the California Institute of the Arts; the competition for the prestigious Turner Prize; the offices of Art Forum (a leading art periodical); Takashi Murakami’s art studio in Tokyo; the Venice Biennial; and the Art Basel art fair.

Thornton’s background as a sociologist and student of Art History uniquely equip her for the study. Her descriptions of the major players in the game of art today are intimate and she manages to present a variety of different viewpoints from art students (“creative is a dirty word”) to collectors (“that Warhol just wouldn’t hang well in my house, it’s too yellow”). However, despite her insider access and claim to being a critical observer, she was unable to always preserve the distance needed to analyze without being attached. She often reveres her subject and fails to question the excessive egos that are paraded before her. Takashi Murakami and his obsession for perfection and almost godlike perception of himself is the prototype for all the characters in the book who are at the center of the worlds they create: Christie’s auctioneers as they carefully set up the room to commandeer the highest price for a masterpiece; Cal Arts students contemplating each others works for hours at a time without leaving the classroom; buyers at the Art Basel fair secretly sneaking in early to nab the best works before any one else sees them (that was before the crisis, of course). Thornton’s descriptions lead one to believe that this is an invulnerable way of life. While it does seem to be biased at times, the book provides an invaluable snapshot of the dynamic contributors to the contemporary art scene and a fascinating voyeuristic peep into places no one else would be able to go.

Sarah Thornton has her own website here.

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