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Seven Days in the Art World

3.61  ·  Rating details ·  59,086 ratings  ·  718 reviews
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 alternativ
Paperback, 320 pages
Published November 2nd 2009 by W. W. Norton & Company (first published November 3rd 2008)
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 ·  59,086 ratings  ·  718 reviews

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Nov 01, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2013, art
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'
Jun 10, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
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
Dec 09, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: contemporary-art
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 criti
Lance Charnes
Jun 01, 2014 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: readers who still miss Robin Leach
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-ins ...more
Arwen Downs
Jul 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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.

Jan 09, 2012 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Lobstergirl by: Börte Üjin
Shelves: art
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 ...more
Aug 11, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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? ...more
Feb 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, essays
Very good book about how the art world operates, from auctions to dealers to collectors.
Oct 09, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 loo
Aug 31, 2017 rated it really liked it
If you want to understand the art world and how money commands it, that's a good start! ...more
Justin Evans
Jan 23, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: history-etc
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 a
Mar 02, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: fine-arts, nonfiction
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.
Lydia Presley
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 b
Dec 09, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 connec
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.
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 .... ...more
Jul 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
Shelves: art
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. ...more
Jun 10, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: People interested in the art world mechanics
Shelves: art
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
Kunal Sen
Sep 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
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.
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," b ...more
Mar 25, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 stud ...more
Jan 01, 2020 rated it really liked it
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 cont ...more
Prima Seadiva
Audiobook. Reader okay.
It appears that the "art world" like so much of our culture today is driven by corporate values of status, pretentiousness, money and commodification.
It's not a world that appeals much to me.
One of the most interesting things for me was how much of this change has occurred post WWII.
Another thing that caught my attention was how in the Crit chapter life drawing was denigrated as useful only for designers. When I went to art school life drawing and other basic skills were
Julie Harding
Jul 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
If you are obsessed with art, like I am, then this book is fun and informative! A little bit out of date perhaps, but very useful nonetheless.
Gahermi class 5-12
Aug 21, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is so amazing.
Apr 10, 2018 rated it liked it
"Art is religion for atheists" was a new idea by me, so that was fun. I got a little lost with the names and just sort of let the venues of each chapter wash over me during walks. It gave me bits to think about, and honestly left me a little despairing of having any part in "true art" since I'm not a quadrillionaire. Why buy anything but posters, really? But... the crit chapter and bits elsewhere still gave me motivation to dabble and support "what I like," whether the arbitrary actors of the ma ...more
Sydney Steib
Oct 15, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really loved her approach to the most exclusive aspects of the art world. It was very engaging and made the most elite aspects of a very diverse and multi faceted industry easy to understand and follow
Abbi Dion
A terrific read. Some of Thornton's interviews contain breathtaking definitions and questions of art and/or the artist.

"A protest against forgetting" - Eric Hobsbawn, quoted by Hans Ulrich Obrist
"[...] do you choose somebody to make history or do you confirm history?" Andrea Rose
"I was taught that one of the defining premises of modern art was its antagonism to mass culture [...] I could argue that Takashi is working within the system only to subvert it. But this idea of subversive complicity is
Aaron Hertzmann
Sep 15, 2019 rated it really liked it
This book is an excellent browse through parts of the toniest parts of the art world. It has the feeling of having gotten the chance to mingle with and asking probing questions of many big players at significant event since. I found it fascinating.

Most of the negative reviews I’ve read are from people who expected something different or something more, to be (as the title somewhat promises), about all of the art worlds (which sounds impossible to me), and for it to be more than an ethnography, w
Jul 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: art
I liked this book very much. Sarah Thornton's writing is clear and interesting in a sense it's really easy to read and hard to put off your hand. It's an interesting journey through today's art world. From the artist's studio to museums and galleries, the Biennale's crowd and art collages.

Thornton's journalistic qualities and a sort of new-journalism type of writing, help her in this book to investigate some of the most fundamental questions about art in this modern age. it's funny how the most
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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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