Nico Novito's Reviews > Seven Days in the Art World

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton
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Mar 29, 12


It is not often that I read nonfiction, but when I’m moved to write a review about it, I can assure you that it is a must-read. Seven Days in the Art World (W.W. Norton, 2008) happens to be one of them. Written by an art writer and sociologist, Sarah Thornton, this book is trying to dissect the elusive contemporary art scene.

Hearing the term “art” usually conjures up image of spacious gallery filled with paintings and sculptures of various forms and sizes. Although it’s not inaccurate, Thornton shows that there is more than meets the eye. Through this ethnographic work, she interviewed more than 250 people—artists, dealers, collectors, art critics, auctioneers—in the span of five years to get the picture of what contemporary art is all about.

The book is structured into seven chapters (“days”), each compiling her experience inside an iconic art institution. The opening chapter—also the most fascinating, in my view—“The Auction” chronicles her experience in an art auction at the Christie’s in New York. Through her amusing and, at times, comical story-telling, we are thrust into the drama surrounding an evening sale in that storied auction house: gossips about which collector will buy a certain Andy Warhol piece, what kind of clothes one should wear to not be mistaken as the auction house staff (hint: it’s not Prada), and what a certain hand gesture means when someone is bidding.

In “The Magazine,” Thornton has deep discussions with Artforum editor-in-chief and several art critics on the state of art criticism nowadays, while in “The Studio Visit,” she travels to Japan to visit Takashi Murakami and observes his creative process. Venice Biennale becomes the focus in the last chapter, where Thornton plays out her social butterfly side and hangs out with the bigwigs of the art world. Meanwhile, the remaining three chapters deal with a critical seminar at a Californian art school, an art fair in Switzerland, and the Turner prize for emerging artists in London.

The main message of this book is clear: there are contemporary art subcultures out there that, for some people, give a newfangled significance to their lives—art has become a kind of alternative religion for them. This, of course, is debatable, but for those who can afford to shell out millions of dollars, probably art has become a way to search meaning in life.

Armed with her expansive knowledge about art and close relations with the art world who’s who, Thornton has created an epic fly-on-the-wall narrative that is very enjoyable to read. No wonder the book has become an international hit and been translated into more than fifteen languages.

For me, this book attests that no matter how mundane or unfamiliar its subjects can be, a book will still be a dazzling read in the end as long as the author writes about it in an eloquent and revealing manner that left us awestruck and say, “Wow, I don’t realize such thing exists!”

And through this book, Thornton has done her job well.
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