Saturday, January 17, 2009

Art World Insider

"Seven Days in the Art World" by Sarah Thornton W. W. Norton & Co. 274 pages $24.95

Thornton has a BA in art history and a PhD in cultural sociology (whatever that may be.) She has written prolifically for ArtForum, the New Yorker and several BBC broadcasts.

The first chapter is a visit to an auction at Christies, New York. She interviews the auctioneer, several of the guests and gives us a look at the art press regulars. In Switzerland, for Art Basel she asks a married pair of collectors if she can follow them around and the woman is appalled and blurts, "That would be like asking to come into our bedroom!"

She believes that art people play one of six distinct roles -- artist, dealer, curator, critic, collector or auction-house expert and as she goes through the book, she interviews these types. All of the above are competitive and to a great degree snobbish. Artist John Baldessari remarked that "Artists could wear stripes like generals, so everyone would know their rank." Meaning one ribbon if you won the Turner Prize (Tate Galleries, London -- only four artists are even considered for it; only one wins.) Another for Highest Price Ever Paid at Auction and then the various auctions could be graded and assigned colors. An amusing concept.

Though the book's copywrite is dated 2008, it took awhile to write it, i.e., before the financial bubble burst all over the world. Very, very few people are paying $13 million for a Warhol or $20 million for a Damien Hirst. Not any more, they're not. Read about them now because unless the financial world takes an uptick, they'll be a vanished breed.

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