I just finished reading Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton, a fabulous account of a microculture –the high-end modern art world– that 99% of us will never experience.
Those seven days are actually seven chapters, drawn on experiences over five years, a period during which, as Times critic Ben Lewis notes, “art grew from a £2.2 billion industry to a £6.1 billion one, and where prices for some artists’ work increased by factors of between 20 and 80.”
In some respects it’s a breezy travelogue –the book begins with an auction in New York, and spans the globe with stops at the Basel Art Fair, a studio visit to Takashi Murakami in Japan and the Venice Bienale– but also a nicely paced study of the quirky dealers, curators, critics, collectors and hypesters that make up and live in that multi-billion $$ world. Thornton is a trained sociologist but also a journalist, making the quips and quotes culled from hundreds of interviews part reportage and part borderline gossip, and historically relevant as well.
You won’t look at an over-hyped Hirst, or an over-priced piece by a modern artist you’ve never heard off, the same way again.