Seven Days In The Art World: One Fruitless Exercise

Reader, I tried. Really and sincerely, I did.

I was aware of a book by Sarah Thornton called Seven Days In The Art World. I never had a desire to approach it. But I’d been asked to take a look, anyway, and decide for myself what all (if any) the fuss was about. I tried to push through it, but my instincts kept gnawing at me, telling me that this was a mistake.

It turns out that my instincts were dead-on.

I couldn’t get past the introduction without my mouth pointing downwards and a lump swelling in my throat. After nearly 15 years in the art world (as consultant, writer/critic, and salesperson), surely I’d be one of Thornton’s intended audience members, right? Someone who already knew a bit about its opaqueness and unspoken rules, but wanted to go deeper for some greater understanding. And if not for people like me, who was its audience? What was all this for?

Case in point: it was a fruitless, discouraging exercise.

I pulled a tactic from the mighty artist/theorist Mira Schor and overlaid my gut reactions across the printed words. I tried to remain professional, objective, detached from what Thornton was communicating, but just couldn’t calm my rumbling gut. It’s unclear what Thornton’s function is as a narrator, throughout. Is she exposing something we’re not meant to see? Is she casting her characters in a more flattering light than the untrained observer would do? Or is she just a paying tourist to nod imperiously at the messy, vibrant web known as “the art world”? Her observations don’t seem to elicit any “Aha!” moments, or bond her readers to characters with little to no connective tissue to any art world I’ve ever encountered. Auctioneers, publishers…Takashi Murakami? These aren’t people you meet in the art world, they’re the ones you only ever hear about.

She weaves her way through the highest and most secretive echelons of what constitutes the business of contemporary art. First, an auction house: strictly relevant to the world’s richest beings whose goals are trading stock versus art. Then, a studio visit with Takashi Murakami, an artist whose self-contained enterprise, according to Money.Inc, has a net worth of $100 million. Finally, a visit to Artforum, with whom she disclosed at the start as having exchanged access for an entry in their gossip column. She also sails through the VIP section of Art Basel and attends a “crit” session at UCLA.

Nope, not interested.

I will candidly admit, Reader, I’ve ass-kissed my way through plenty of galleries and art fairs. I’ve mindlessly flattered less-than-mediocre artists for money, I’ve name-dropped like flies on flypaper, and my cheeks bear the healed bruises of double and triple kisses from Miami to Hong Kong. But reading this book brought me back to my days in graduate school, where everyone was quick to remind you how small, insignificant and powerless you were; how you could only ever hope to ascend through the contemporary art empyrean through “connections” and “people in high places.” This is exactly what Thornton has done, and she did it with that ever-useful tool to slice through velvet ropes: money.

The truth, though, is that while money governs the world in which artists, gallerists, writers – there are really no more “critics” who move the proverbial needle, anymore – curators and auctioneers live, it cannot mimic or substitute what moves all of these people to engage in that world. So, if money isn’t the driving factor to join the art world, why didn’t Thornton illustrate that?

Because she is an outsider, lacking what matters most: passion and intention.

In conclusion…wait, hold on. This book is from 2009. That’s it. Stop the car. The one thing that changed everything, the thing that really makes this book moot, was barely a whisper back then: Instagram.


Featured image: Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled (2007), taxidermied horse, 300 x 170 x 80 cm, Installation view, Museum für Modern Kunst, Frankfurt (Germany). Photo credit: Axel Schneider

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