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Seven Days in the Art World

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Named one of the best art books of 2008 by The New York Times and The Sunday Times [London]: “An indelible portrait of a peculiar society.”—Vogue

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. 8 illustrations.

320 pages, Paperback

First published November 3, 2008

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About the author

Sarah Thornton

21 books188 followers
Sarah Thornton was the chief writer on contemporary art for The Economist. She holds a BA in art history and a PhD in sociology.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 796 reviews
Profile Image for Troy.
300 reviews138 followers
January 24, 2016
I hate this book. Or more accurately, I hate what this book focuses on.

Now I need to state that my hatred is pretty moronic. The book is titled Seven Days in the Art World, which very clearly labels it as a tourist's guidebook, so it might as well be labelled Lonely Planet: Art World, or Let's Go! Art World, or How to Travel the Art World with No Money and Without Leaving Your Couch. It's Seven Days, which is the length of time most tourists give to some "foreign locale." In seven days, you won't really experience the destination, but you will see the same ridiculous highlights fellow tourists from the U.S., Germany, Australia, and the UK have seen.

What I hate is the tourist highlights she focuses on. It's similar to a guidebook to NYC that focuses on the Empire State Building, the Chrysler Building, the Statue of Liberty, etc. All interesting, I suppose, but really boring and obvious tourist attractions that capture nothing of the workaday quotidian NYC; the NYC that NYers experience. The world of tourists and the world of NYers rarely interacts, unless a fat-ass tourist is in a NYers way while they're walking to work. "Hey, I'm walkin' heah!"

The art world is a world. It's a group of people in constant communication, talking and sharing and part of a community. There are several worlds within the art world, and Thornton focuses only on Power Institutions. When she does focus on individuals, she focuses on the "Big Names" and "Art Stars," which I know makes sense for a guide book, but really paints a false picture about the world the book is supposed to guide us through. As a tourist guide, it's hard to focus on the cool shit that is happening in some hidden neighborhood, where artists or musicians or dancers or whatever are making something interesting, but if you're guidebook is anything more than a schlocky checklist, then that is where the action is.

She focuses on The Biggest Prize. The Most Influential Art Magazine. The Vastly Important Art Fair. And it's all bullshit. The value of art isn't created in The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, or The Biennale. It happens in the day to day. It happens in the neighborhoods that those artists live in; in the worlds they inhabit. Institutions, blue chip galleries, the Biennials, etc., all come after the fact. And if they come before the fact, then the art world is fucked and dysfunctional (e.g. the long, sad, and boring time periods when Academic Art reigned).

Basically, this book implies that value filters down from the top, which isn't true. The author tries to temper that implication by stating, several times, that it is a very complicated dialog with many voices in the mix, but she leaves out the quotidian in favor of the sexy Big Events, which have everything to do with Money and Power, and very little to do with art.

A personal note: I have a few friends who are now successful artists, gallerists, critics, and curators. And I know a bunch of people who dropped out of the art world altogether (me included). And a few people who putter on with the occasional show or as an art professor at some university. But I watched the successful ascend, and it did NOT happen in The Auction, The Crit, The Fair, The Prize, The Magazine, The Studio Visit, or The Biennale. It happened in two places: in the studio and in "the social scenes that artists live in." Most of the time, art is lonely. Until you're successful, you will work alone, or, at best, in a studio near a friend, who is also working alone. The time in a studio is insanely private, until you need assistants (which is another fucked-up topic entirely). But tons of time is spent with peers at each other's studios, getting high or drinking and looking at each other's work. Or more often, at a cafe or a bar, talking about process and gossiping and, "Have you seen Person X's new work?" The value of art accrues in the interstices, hidden away from the "sexy" power machines that Thorton covers in her book. The value of art happens as gossip between artists. And that talk flows to peers who are roughly the same age who have galleries or write for obscure web art publications. And that talk about who is good coalesces and congeals. And only after that gossipy talk has formed into blocks does it filter up to Art Forum or a mid-list gallery, and only after years does that flow up to a spot at the Venice Biennale, or a prominent spot in a money gallery that can afford to go to Basel.

This book is a snap shot of an art world that forgot (and continues to forget) that those massive Money and Cultural Institutions are barnacles on the vibrant ass of the art world. They, like the parasitical rich whose genitals are constantly slurped at, are after thoughts that claim glory, when the glory was already established. Yes, Art That Is Remembered will be remembered in part because of those boring Money and Cultural Institutions, but art that is good continues for centuries, long past the death of those institutions and rich people. More importantly, art is not accrued value through the barnacled institutions, but through the peer groups that the artists gestate in. And although that's a much harder world to guide someone through, that's the real world of the everyday, not the ridiculous world of the tourist looking at irrelevant relics to Power and Money.
Profile Image for Mary.
422 reviews6 followers
June 10, 2012
For someone who "writes about the art world and art market for many publications," Thornton asks some pretty lame questions. She seems, overall, clueless about art. Her deep, probing interview questions are "What do artists learn at art school? What is an artist? How do you become one? What makes a good one?"


Granted, the less the reader knows about art, I imagine, the more interesting the book would be.

She loves describing what people are wearing, as in, "Gladstone is dressed entirely in black Prada." Everything is written in a forced present-tense, as if that would make it visceral and exciting instead of pretentious and dull. She writes choppy paragraphs quoting her interview subjects. Either quote them, or give us your interpretation of what they said, but please do not do both at the same time.

Even if Thornton is showing us the truth, that a lot of the "art world" is pretentious, she misses deeper truths. At no time does she convey the depth of conviction that many artists have about their work, or how that depth of conviction might be shared by a viewer.
Profile Image for Carol.
825 reviews
January 12, 2012
Overview - It's a book about 7 different environments of the art world:
* an auction (at Christie's in NYC) - below
* a MFA crit session (at CalArt) -below
* a visit to the Basel art fair (Switzerland)
* the Turner prize in London
* a visit to Artforum (magazine)
* a visit to the studio of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami
* a trip to the Venice Biennale

Overall it was an easy read, but as an artist it bothered me.
I have been to an art auction at Sothebys and have personally, gone through many critiques, so I could relate. What bothered me was that after an artist creates their "work of art", it becomes a "commodity" for the self-centered, big money "collectors". It's not really about the art but about money and being in the elitist clique.

Initially I was reviewing each chapter until I got on the plane for a very long flight.
Chapter 1 is what is happening in auction world -- the supply and demand of art, the different types of collectors and what "3 D" reasons (death, debt & divorce) would make a collector sell his art, why some things sells and others do not and the buzz and excitement of the auction floor of her experience at Christies in NYC. I have experienced an art auction at Sothebys in NYC. It is fast, shocking at times, always surprising and addicting! It was interesting to see a list of 9 living female artists who are now getting over a million dollars for their work. Paintings are still #1 medium especially with a "buxom female" being more popular than a male nude.

Chapter 2 is all about "the Crit" (a seminar where MFA students present their work for critique from peers as well as the teacher). Thorton went to CalArts to observe Michael Asher who has been doing this with art students since 1974. It is an informal group with deep discussions. A crit can be painful when artists try to rational and defend their work. CalArts education is more focused on cerebral than talent of the hand. Interesting to me was Mary Kelly (a feminist conceptualist, who taught at many large institutions like CalArt, UCLA) who thought that it is fine for artists to have crits where they give an account of their intentions, but it shouldn't be the only way. Kelly says to her students "Never go to the wall text. Never ask the artist. Learn to read the work." I think everyone should "read the work" because we are all different and no two people will process the artwork the same.
Profile Image for Lance Charnes.
Author 7 books90 followers
May 25, 2020
This is an anthropological study of a murky subculture given to bizarre rituals, riven by tribal conflict and prone to madness...the world of contemporary art. Sarah Thornton, our intrepid guide, comes at this woolly subject from different angles -- seven of them, to be precise, each set in a different city -- shining a light on the major clans and customs. The result is a surprisingly engaging account of how the frothiest end of the art market works (or doesn't), written in a way that a non-insider can understand.

Thornton spends a day inside the New York branch of Christie's, one of the three major auction houses able to sell tens of millions of dollars worth of art to the extraordinarily rich in a single evening; a crit session at CalArts, where future artists learn how to disengage their thinking processes from the real world; opening day of the Venice Biennale, the art-themed amusement park for the very wealthy; and four other close encounters with the contemporary art scene. Her you-are-there approach is both vivid and clear. When we're not in the thick of things, she's telling us about conversations she's had with the market's movers and shakers that help explain what's going on. This is a reality show begging to be made: the camera follows Our Heroine as she scrambles through superstar pop-artist Takashi Murakami's studios, then cuts away to a talking-head interview with a guy who happens to be a top dealer or the publisher of the most influential art magazine in America, who explains it all for you.

This book features a huge cast of characters. Owing to the incestuous nature of their world, they all know each other, attend the same parties, used to work in each others' galleries or newspapers, sometimes are (or were) married to each other, and speak the same obscure dialect of English. Thornton (a sometime reporter for The Economist) does a good job differentiating the major players enough so that we can remember who they are when they pop up here and there. This crowd of characters is another reason this book really wants to be made into a reality show: instead of hillbillies with big beards or New Jersey midgets with precancerous tans, Seven Days gives us a magazine publisher whose suits all come in primary colors, an art professor who teaches by not saying anything, megarich collectors, Turner Prize finalists who don't know whether they really want to win, and any number of other kinds of exotic fauna.

The fifth star is missing because Thornton's prism has only seven sides, which leaves out a lot of the spectrum. While it's gratifyingly strange to spend time in Murakami's bizarre world, he's hardly a representative example of the non-celebrity working artist. We meet marquee-named dealers flitting about the edges of these vignettes, but never see what they do on a day-to-day basis, nor do we learn what life is like for the other 95% of gallerists and dealers. We're briefly exposed to the concept of private collectors starting their own museums to show off their prizes; it would have been interesting to watch that process play out in front of us. My own particular area of interest -- art crime -- never even gets mentioned; surely Thornton could've found a detective or insurance investigator to shadow for a day?

Seven Days in the Art World is a cook's tour of the contemporary art scene's 1%, the part that generates headline nine-figure sales, receptions full of the glitterati, and incomprehensible statement art that will be coming soon to a museum near you. Don't expect to learn much about the workaday market and the not-famous people in it. Look at it as true-life science fiction -- a visit to a world full of alien creatures populating a parallel Earth on the opposite side of the Sun.
Profile Image for Arwen Downs.
65 reviews5 followers
July 5, 2009
I am sure that most readers of this book also chose it because we will never be able to attend a Christie's Post-war art auction, the Venice Bienniale, or the Basel Art Fair except vicariously through Sarah Thornton. Lucky for us, she does so with grace and wit and every other attribute I would wish to exhibit when in attendance at one of these prestigious events. Not to mention her uncanny knack for never forgetting an important face or name, which would certainly be my first failing point.

The social butterfly aspect aside (which is extremely useful in writing such a book, so it ought not be discounted), Thornton also does her homework and legwork - not only did she aggressively seek out many of her interviewees, but she also worked for a number of them for various lengths of time, most notably as a writer for Artforum.com.

The icing on the cake (for me) that gained my unequivocal approval was Thornton's choice to interview Peter Schjeldahl, the art critic for the New Yorker who is my absolute favorite as far as art critics go. So I guess I am biased, although her lengthy visit to Murakami's studio had the opposite effect, as his attitude toward art, process, and life reinforces the distaste I have for him that began with my dislike of his artwork.

But back to the book! I think it sums it up that Sarah Thornton treated both my favorite critic and one of my least favorite contemporary artists in ways that were engaging and has reinforced my fascination with the art world, despite all the flaws.
Profile Image for Lobstergirl.
1,715 reviews1,242 followers
February 26, 2012
Thornton's narrative seemed to lose a little of its zest as it wended to a close. Early chapters on a Christie's auction of contemporary art, and a visit to the Art Basel fair were most interesting. It was instructive to learn how buying from a gallery is different from buying at auction, for example. But chapters on Takashi Murakami, the magazine Artforum, and the Venice Biennale were relatively lustreless, and Thornton felt too much in the narrative; she spoke a lot in the first person, it was clear she had established friendships with many of the main players she was interviewing, and it was hard not to think of her as the pretty girl at the party, drawing the attention of elderly collectors at the auctions and fairs, swimming at the pool of the Hotel Cipriani in Venice with the large-bellied super-rich. In the chapter on Artforum, New Yorker critic Peter Schjeldahl's comments are actually a lot more interesting than the ones coming from the Artforum publishers or editors. Someone at Art Basel says perceptively, "The amount of art in the world is a bit depressing. The worst of it looks like art, but it's not. It is stuff cynically made for a certain kind of collector." For me Murakami's art falls in this category ("the worst" is a pretty big category, for me), but one doesn't get the sense that Thornton felt the same way as she wrote about Murakami.
Profile Image for Heather.
64 reviews6 followers
August 11, 2008
I got to read an advanced copy of this book and write a blurb about it for the magazine. Sooo, not only did reading this book make me feel extremely cool, it was also a really enjoyable read. Thornton is a "cat on the prowl" in the most important (and impenetrable) centers of the contemporary art world. Her account is gossipy and educational. What could be more fun?
Profile Image for Jim.
87 reviews4 followers
October 9, 2009
In spite of her apparent hopes that this book might be a ethnology of the art world, it comes across a group of magazine articles that describe seven events -- an auction, an art fair, a biennial, etc. -- and how they contribute to the economics of the art world, how things are sold, and how reputations are established.

Being relatively ignorant about any of this, I was surprised to discover that galleries at the upper echelons don't just sell to the first person willing to write a check, but look for a collector who plans to enhance the reputation of their artists through lending the art to public exhibitions and through his own reputation.

Equally interesting, although not quite as informative, are the numerous semi-profound statements scattered throughout the book by various art world characters. One says without further explanation, "Georges Perec wrote a novel without the letter e. I think we can learn from that." I don't know who this "we" is that he is talking about, but I am not one of them.

I also enjoyed the visit to Art Forum magazine, particularly the section where an editor suggests that at one period in its history the magazine suffered from "the wrong kind of unreadability." As someone who has struggled to get through an Art Forum article, I am happy to know that they have now achieved the right kind of unreadability.
Profile Image for Sergio.
229 reviews2 followers
August 31, 2017
If you want to understand the art world and how money commands it, that's a good start!
Profile Image for Justin Evans.
1,525 reviews799 followers
January 23, 2016
A fun, deceptively sophisticated jog through one very small aspect of "the art world." And that aspect is, overwhelmingly, the economic. This is a book about how rich people have nothing to do with their enormous amounts of money, so they spend it on objects that may or may not be of any aesthetic value. But they are great status markers. I mean, would you even go to someone's party if they didn't have a Jeff Koons? No way, right?

The first few chapters--one at a contemporary art auction, when at an MFA seminar, and one at an art fair--are really good. After that, it gets a little tedious, and nauseating, which is how people with so much money that they don't know what to do with it always make me feel, as well as people who structure their entire lives around giving said very wealthy people things to do with their money that aren't, e.g., paying taxes.

Thornton makes no bones about the topic of this book; it is an ethnography, it is not at all interested in making aesthetic distinctions, and you'll have to decide for yourself if Takashi Murakami is interesting and if his work is worthwhile. I have a hard time believing that anyone could finish reading the book, however, without making a pretty strong aesthetic judgment on the people Thornton's writing about.
451 reviews2,966 followers
February 21, 2012
لا تقرأ هذا الكتاب مالم يكن لديك إهتمام حقيقي بالفن التشكيلي
مالم يكن لديك إهتمام بماذا يحدث في كواليس المعارض الفنية
الصراعات بين الفنانين وبين تجار المزادات الفنية ومحرري المجلات
الكاتبة كتبت هذا الكتاب خلال ثلاث سنوات قامت فيه بتجربة باحث حقيقي حيث حضرت صفوف فنية وشاركت أحاسيس الطلاب ومشاعرهم حين يتعرضوا للنقد من قبل زملائهم كما إلتقت بالعديد من الفنانين والمحررين وأصحاب المزدادات الفنية ومحبي التحف وشهدت الكثير من الصراعات كما أجرت العديد من اللقاءات أبرزها كان اللقاء مع الفنان موروكامي صاحب العلامة الشهيرة للويس فيتون
حقيقة هذا اللقاء كان من أجمل ما قرأتُ في الكتاب
صحيح إنني استمتعتُ بتجربتها في الفصول الأولى لكنني وجدت نفسي بعيدة جدا عن هذا العالم الصاخب ليس فقط بالألوان بل بأشياء بعيدة كلية عما يجب أن يحتمله الفن
غير أن جهد الكاتبة وأسلوبها الظريف ووصفها للأحداث والشخصيات واللوحات يستحق كل التقدير
متعتي الأكبر هي ترجمة الكتاب التي كانت من اللذائذ التي امتعتني
د صديق محمد جوهر اسم جدير بالتذكر

Profile Image for Nightwatcher.
15 reviews3 followers
June 12, 2017

سارا تورنتون، محقق حوزه‌ی فرهنگ و دانش آموخته‌ و مدرس رشته‌ی هنر و جامعه‌شناسی با روحیه‌ای متاثر از سابقه‌ی درخشانش در حوزه‌ی روزنامه‌نگاری (به خصوص دوران کار در نشریه‌ی اکونومیست) شجاعانه به پشت‌پرده‌ترین و رازدارترین حلقه‌های دنیای هنر نفوذ می‌کند تا برای خوانندگان خود روایتی بی‌سابقه از زند و بندها، افراد تاثیرگذار و کهن‌الگوهای جهان هنر را به تصویر بکشد.
زبان خودمانی، طنزآمیز و گاهی برّنده‌ی «هفت روز در جهان هنر» لذت خواندن در مورد این موضوع را حتی برای مخاطب عام از امری کسل‌کننده‌ و ثقیل به تجربه‌ای لذت بخش تبدیل می‌کند. نگاه جامعه‌ شناسانه‌ی تورنتون به تحلیل‌های این کتاب عمق بخشیده در حالی که تبحر روزنامه‌نگارانه‌ی او در دسترسی به اطلاعاتی که به راحتی در اختیار همگان نیست، تنها یکی از نکاتی‌ست که این کتاب را منحصر به فرد می‌کند.
کتاب «هفت روز در جهان هنر» بر مبنای بررسی هفت رکن اصلی این عرصه حراجی، کلاس نقد، جشنواره، جایزه، مجلات هنری، دیدار از کارگاه و دوسالانه شکل گرفته است.
نویسنده برخلاف بسیاری از متون دیگر در مورد این موضوع، به جای آنکه از دور به تحلیل جهان هنر بپردازد، خود را با جان و دل درون ملغمه‌ی غریب تاجران، دلالان، گالریست‌ها، هنرمندان، مجموعه‌داران، روزنامه نگاران و دانشگاهیان می‌اندازد و قاره به قاره، شهر به شهر و کشور به کشور سفر می‌کند تا نه تنها روایت دست اول خود را از این جهان موازی با زندگی روزمره ثبت کند، بلکه تصویری قابل لمس برای برای افراد خارج از آن و قابل تایید برای اهالی آن ارائه نماید.

این کتاب با وجود آنکه بدون شک برای مخاطب عام سفری هیجان انگیز به جهانی کمتر شناخته شده به ارمغان می‌آورد، برای هر فردی که به نحوی با جهان هنر مرتبط است نیز مطالعه‌ی آن باید در اولویت باشد. به عنوان مثال، مخاطبین ایرانی در طیف‌های مختلف عرصه‌ی هنر که کمتر فرصت حضور در فضاهای بررسی شده در این کتاب را دارند، می‌توانند به این کتاب به عنوان رهیافتی برای آگاهی از فعل و انفعالات هنر در عرصه‌ی بین‌المللی و راهنمایی برای تلاش در جهت ارتقای سطح تعاملات هنری و غنای روابط بین عناصر مختلف صحنه‌ی هنر ایران نگاه کنند.
علاوه بر تمام این موارد، آرزو احمی با تسلطی کم نظیر به اصطلاحات تخصصی هنر و توانایی معادل‌سازی زبان محاوره‌ای متن کتاب موفق به ارائه‌ی یکی از بهترین ترجمه‌ی های فارسی متون هنری در سال‌های اخیر، ضامن درک کامل و لذت کافی خواننده شده است که خود ضرورت خواندن و هدیه دادن این کتاب را برای اهالی جهان هنر و برای مخاطبین کنجکاو دوچندان می‌کند.

Profile Image for Karyn.
204 reviews
March 5, 2018
The marketing and legitimizing of current art for the wealthy elites is repulsive to me on almost every level.
Recommended for those with a strong stomach and ability to tolerate this focus on the privileged few, who may or may not have any regard or insight into artistic legacy.
Profile Image for Lydia Presley.
1,380 reviews110 followers
July 16, 2010
This book almost went in my unable to finish shelf. First, a bit of history about this book.

The book club I attended chose this book for July's read. It was a complete accident that this book got chosen as we are, technically, a Fiction Book Club. But the cover looked interesting and it was out of most of our normal "comfort" zone, so chosen it was.

I think my perspective on this book was changed from what it might have been due to the book I had read just before it. Since I had just finished a book on the world of pianos (rebuilding, repairing, musicians - both composers and performers) I was already aware of a world out there where names were given that others not immersed in the music world wouldn't necessarily know. So a low rating on the book was raised because I understood that I was not Sarah Thornton's "prime" audience.

That said, she still came across as condescending. She dropped names quite liberally in a few chapters (specifically the chapter dealing on the magazine) and was pretty rude to a few of the people she talked to in the book. I didn't like the person writing the book but I appreciated the material, even if it wasn't something I shared a lot of interest in.

That said - I was very interested in the first chapter.. and actually a chapter we discussed in our book club that I hadn't read yet.. and read following the discussion - the studio. There were some really, really dull chapters that I had to push myself through and there were chapters that had some interesting parts.

I would say if you are interested in art and willing to do some googling to look up names and art pieces, then sure.. check out this book. But see if your library has it first!
Profile Image for Richard.
39 reviews
December 10, 2012
Not necessarily for everyone, but if you are interested in art and how money moves and hype works in the art world it is a delicious and well researched close-up look into all aspects of the art market.

Thornton's book takes a look at the art college, the gallery, the auctioneer, the art show and of course the modern artist's studio to look at the modern art game from many angles.

What impresses is the great level of the interviews with genuine and weighty insiders. The author must be well connected and is obviously tenacious, but the people she gets to and insights she gets from and through them are very interesting. It is not a judgmental exposé, or hatchet job - but you do get a good look at how it really is, from someone who knows the game and actually likes her art.

I was given this from an artist I know as I am just as interested in how the art world works as the art itself. Of course, so are the artists; Warhol shocked with his statements about art, now we just accept Hirst et al, and Murakami (featured in this book) takes it to the level of a corporate branding exercise.

Don't buy any art without reading it...

Profile Image for Vtlozano.
50 reviews3 followers
December 4, 2008
An entertaining tour of the contemporary art world: from auction to artist to museum to art magazine to art fair. Occasionally lapses into a bit of anthropological analysis, but stays mostly in a strong, detailed, and enjoyable descriptions of the funny animals in the art zoo. Strong reportage.
Profile Image for QueenAmidala28.
286 reviews
October 18, 2017
Technically a 4.5. New topic for me but loved every bit of it. "The Studio Visit" with Murakami was my favorite interview - yea I am partial to anything and anyone Japanese but Thornton did a great job at highlighting Murakamis work and not just this crazed always on the move with huge productions- type artists. She focused on the studio as it pertains to the art work as she did with the Art school, the auction house and Biennale. More to come ....
Profile Image for Tamara.
73 reviews
July 15, 2020
The 'Auction' chapter was really fun, but it got a bit tedious towards the end. I didn't know any of the names either, which wasn't a problem, but I wish she gave a bit more background on herself and her influence. She went to so many big events, yet I didn't really know what her role in any of it was (except for author obviously). As a fellow Canadian, I would love to know how she gained access to the elite art world.
Profile Image for Elba.
156 reviews
May 3, 2022
A bit repetitive and shallow but overall very interesting.
Profile Image for Sofia.
Author 4 books120 followers
December 13, 2010
Posted on my book blog.

In the world that surrounds us, there are many smaller "worlds" that regular people don't usually have access to. Some, like the medical or forensic experts world, are explored through popular TV shows and mass media culture, so that the general population, not exactly being a part of it, still feels like they have some access and knowledge of it (even if it is of a highly romanticized, flawed and fictionalized account). Such a thing doesn't happen with the art world, the internal workings of which remain virtually shut off from outsiders (with a few exceptions).

Sarah Thornton, the author, is a sociologist who adopts a "cat on the prowl" method rather than a "fly on the wall" one, that is, she immerses herself in the world she is studying, searching for situations and exploring them to their full potential. The access she obtains is remarkable, with some of the major players in the art world as interviewees, and the reporting of a few events that few people ever get to be a part of. This book is divided into seven parts, each depicting "a day" in a different part of the art world: the Auction, the Crit, the Fair, the Prize, the Magazine, the Studio Visit and the Biennale.

I bought this book because, even though I'm technically a part of the art world she describes (I'm taking a Master's degree in Museum and Curatorial studies), there are still a few parts of it that are a mystery to me. The art world is rather schizophrenic, with intense contrasts and polarized beliefs and actions, and the book does a great job presenting this: for example, we have the very rich people who believe art is a commodity versus very poor art students who abhor words like creativity and never speak about money. There's a delicate balancing of these conflicting beliefs, and it's fascinating to see the mechanics behind that balancing.

However, I have to say that the tone of this book was one of exaggeration. In all these stories, the volume is turned up high, and the people described and their actions seem at times so extreme that I started to wonder if they were not caricatures of themselves. It makes it seem like there is no place in the art world for balanced human beings or actions. This is far from the truth (again, I speak from my own personal experience); this probably happens because it's much more interesting to show the extremes than to make space in the book for less sensational situations.

There was also a lot of name-dropping, a few of which weren't familiar to me, so I read this with a search engine in front of me. I actually loved that, since I like learning about new artists and critics, but I imagine that it can get tiresome for some people.

All in all, this is a fascinating book if you're interested in the mechanics of the art world, with an easy to read (but still interesting) language, based on a remarkable research work. Definitely worth it.
Profile Image for Kunal Sen.
328 reviews46 followers
September 3, 2019
Demystifies the strange and complex world of Contemporary Art by looking at it not as an insider, but as a keen observer who is pretending to be an insider. Though she takes the perspective of a social scientist and an anthropologist, her knowledge of art history and her respect and appreciation of contemporary art practices makes the book not only useful but also a pleasure to read.
Profile Image for Ron.
Author 13 books75 followers
November 11, 2008
Thornton plunges into a full-immersion study of seven radically different environments of the art world, from a Christie's auction to an open crit session at CalArt, from the Japanese studios of Takashi Murakami to the Venice Biennale, and records what she sees and hears. Several sets of wonderful stories emerge, with occasional overlap as a few figures move from one scene to another, but for the most part these are highly disparate snapshots which demonstrate that there is no one "art world," but a whole range of overlapping subcultures, each with its own hierarchies and protocols.

I'd put her self-described ethnographic technique somewhere between traditional newspaper/magazine reporting and, say, the participatory journalism of George Plimpton; she's definitely not trying to be invisible, but she's not taking part in the activities she observes, either. At any rate, she's got a wonderful sense of story and of teasing out the significance of the events she witnesses, and the result is a very smart and entertaining read.
Profile Image for Judy.
705 reviews10 followers
March 26, 2009
If you are confused by the contemporary art scene, this book is a great introduction. It does not explain the art itself, just the art WORLD. Each chapter represents a "day" (or several) at a different art-related location: an art auction at Christie's in New York, a criticism session in an art class at California Institute of the Arts, the Art Basel Fair in Switzerland, the awarding of the Turner Prize in London, a day at ArtForum (the most respected art magazine in the US), a visit to the studio of Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and a trip to the Venice Biennale (a huge worldwide art competition). Along the way you meet some of the great contemporary artists and the gallery owners who show their work and profit thereby. The amount of money being thrown around is mind boggling. It's a very expensive and exclusive scene. I didn't feel that the author was passing any kind of judgment on the art itself, just exploring the world in which it exists.
Profile Image for daemyra, the realm's delight.
875 reviews37 followers
January 3, 2020
In Seven Days in the Art World, Sarah Thornton follows the money in the contemporary art world. Imagine reading a series of Vanity Fair articles and that is this. The highlight of the book is also its Achilles’ heel. Thornton spent five years researching and interviewed 250 people for the book. She gained access to a lot of power players so while there are some amusing quotes, she leaves it up to the reader to make their own conclusions about the paradoxes and contradictions inherent in the contemporary art market. I wanted her to go off but oh well. If you ever came across the art documentary, Blurred Lines: Inside the Art World (also by a Canadian!), the documentary follows the same ground (auction house, fair, dealer etc.) and even interviews some of the same people, but it is much more insistent about regulating the art market as a solution for the art market bubble, although it too, ultimately, falls short of pointing a really critical finger at inequality in the art world.

Thornton does an excellent job of demystifying how art is sold, what events matter in the art world and why that is so. I really enjoyed Seven Days in the Art World. There were some things I thought would have been cool to see: a behind-the-scenes look at one of the top museums in the world - Tate? MoMA? - and seeing what their concerns were, perhaps technology and social media and how they are disrupting the way we experience art for good and bad. A vibrant art community of young, emerging artists that were not so institutional such as the Turner Prize candidates, would have been cool to see, to see their concerns and their support groups. The Crit chapter was supposed to show young artists having this rite-of-passage moment at the end of their MFA program at a prestigious art school, but we didn't really get those genuine discussions of art. It focused on art students that would not likely be artists - one of the students was a guy who, due to family stuff, basically didn't prepare for his project but off they go. Incidentally, it made me hate art students.

Thornton said in one of her press interviews that she kept some of the bullshit that the sources said because it was entertaining. Some of my favourite lines come from self-important but insecure collectors, but I really enjoy these for how earnest the speaker is to be both serious and blase:

“People like to talk about themselves and to show that they know what they know. I’m fighting that urge right now - I have to fight the impulse to try to impress you that I am important.”

“Georges Perec wrote a novel without the letter e,” he added. “I think we can learn from that.”
Profile Image for Aistė M. Grajauskaitė.
20 reviews2 followers
July 5, 2020
Sociologijos mokslų diplomą turinti Sarah Thornton teigia 5 metus varsčiusi menininkų dirbtuvių, galerijų, mugių, auditorijų duris tam, kad pagaliau suprastų, koks iš tiesų meno rinkos pasaulis. Ir koks rezultatas?

Knyga parašyta esamuoju laiku, tad viskas vyksta čia ir dabar, ir tai pasakojimui suteikia tikrojo meno rinkos žavesio – aukciono plaktukas stukteli dabar, čekis už mugėje įsigytą darbą taip pat pasirašomas skaitytojo akivaizdoje. Autorės pasakojimo maniera ir stilius – leng­vai perprantami ir aiškūs. Leidinys suskirstytas į 7 dalis, kurias siūloma matyti kaip atskiras savaitės dienas. S. Thornton atskleidžia aukciono namų („Christie’s“ Niujorke), meno kritiko (Kalifornijos menų istitutas Valencijoje), meno mugės („Art Basel“), menininko dirbtuvės (japonų menininko Takashi Murakami), meno bienalės ir laikraščio gyvenimą iš arčiau. Ji visiems veikėjams suteikia vardus ir pavardes, nurodo laiką, įvardija pinigines sumas, tačiau knyga mano dėmesio neprikaustė. Kodėl?

Daugeliu atveju pagaudavau save kiek pykstančią ant S. Thornton, nes ji, kaip sociologė, pernelyg daug dėmesio skyrė meno rinkos žaidėjų išvaizdai (ir taip aišku, jog niekas nevaikšto su „Bensimon“ teniso bateliais), kuri, kad ir kaip būtų, nėra kanoninė, tačiau išsyk atleisdavau, nes ji – viena iš nedaugelio žurnalistų, sugebėjusi pabūti kiekvienoje meno pasaulio srityje (ir tai tik jų crème de la crème) ir pateikti savotišką, kone antropologinę jų analizę. Bet kuriuo atveju ši knyga patiks tiek meno mylėtojui, tiek profesionalui, nes gausu pikantiškų ir informatyvių detalių, parašyta lengvu žurnalistiniu stiliumi.

Išversta į lietuvių kalbą: NE | Įvertinimas: 7/10
Profile Image for Rachel.
1,306 reviews104 followers
November 2, 2021
This was absorbing, fascinating, and enthralling. Thornton’s approach to the rarefied environment of modern fine art is one of a sociologist making first contact with an isolated tribe, which is fully appropriate for how detached they appear to be from reality. I cherished the insight she provided into this world, because I will never even see a part of it – I’m not ever going to attend a Christie’s auction or a Venice Biennale. Indeed, if all they have to offer is horrible Murakami weebo sculptures retailing at a million a piece, nor do I really want to. However, the book itself is engagingly written and full of fascinating insights into what seems to me to be the output of non-human aliens.

“[Life drawing] has never been on the Art School curriculum at CalArts. (Tellingly, they teach it over in the animation department.)”

Like, what the fuck. What the FUCK.

“[…] the prevailing belief is that any artist whose art fails to display some conceptual rigour is little more than a pretender, illustrator, or designer.”


I love these quotes:

Paul Schimmel (MOCA): “What you are given is not really yours. What you work at, what you struggle for, what you have to take command of – that often makes for very good art.”

Yoko Ono: “Sectors of the peace industry are always criticising each other, but the war industry is so united.”

Logsdail: “The nowness of now, which is quite obsessive, is actually a reflection of the consumerism that you see in the whole culture. It can be a lot of fun if it is to your taste.”
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Aura Espitia Muñoz Cota.
259 reviews16 followers
February 14, 2021
Lo leí cuando salió, en pleno boom del arte contemporáneo joven, en los precios de 12 millones de dólares, en Murakami y sus aportaciones a Louis Vuitton. Ya había montado dos o tres exposiciones como una incipiente curadora.
Ahora, después de años, de haber cambiado de actividad dentro del sector cultural, releo este texto, reviso dónde están varios de estos artistas retratados, dónde está el mercado del arte, y dónde estoy yo. Este es un libro que me llevó a estudiar Gestión cultural, tratando de entender. Sigo en eso, y el texto sigue siendo bueno, sigue siendo relevante. Las preguntas sigues siendo vigentes.
Nuestra necesidad de la novedad, qué logrará trascender lo sensacional y la celebridad.
Profile Image for Joseph Metrano.
13 reviews
January 16, 2022
An insightful look into a highly exclusive realm that even avid museum goers know very little about. Given that it describes the art scene as it was in 2007, I’d be curious to learn more about how it has changed, what with social media and VR becoming increasingly prominent players in the fine arts (not to mention a two-year global pandemic).
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