Over the holidays. I read Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton. For anyone even mildly curious about the international art scene, I highly recommend reading it. The book is essentially independent portraits of each of seven different aspects of the overall milieu. Thornton immerses herself in each of the subdivisions, acting not like a fly on the wall, but instead as a useful contributor. She seems to work at ArtForum in the chapter “The Magazine.” She seems to act like a consultant in the chapters “The Auction,” “The Fair” and “The Biennale” set at a Christie’s Modern Art Auction, ArtBasel and the Venice Biennale respectively. She’s just another CalArts student in “The Crit.” She serves almost to be a judge for the Turner Prize in “The Prize,” and she seems to be an essential sounding board for Tim Blum & Jeff Poe, the La Cienega gallerists, as they visit Takashi Murakami’s pulsating Kaikai Kiki studio/factory/…/…/…/…/.
Thornton’s style is effortless to read. She thankfully avoids the impenetrable prose which defines much of art criticism, and doesn’t get manipulated by the hordes of tastemakers throughout the book who no doubt could turn a weaker-minded journalist into an exponent for whatever agendas they wish to promote. She selects beautifully worded quotations from the seemingly endless roster of art world luminaries to whom she has unfettered access to illustrate her days’ experiences. (Seriously, these people are wordsmiths. I wonder if a couple of them ever speak in anything but aphorisms.)
While the pretensions of the art world are replete in her subjects, she portrays them with dignity. She understands and respects the power that art wields in the lives of those she studies, and she does not abuse the trust those put in her to portray themselves faithfully. Everyone seems to love her, which may reflect a self-serving trait in those who she interviews, but it’s much more than that. Her subjects wouldn’t let themselves be portrayed as extravagant sophists. Savvy is an understatement. They simply wouldn’t cooperate. No, they’re convinced that she “gets it.” So am I.