Seven Days in the Art World

Sarah Thornton, Author . Norton $24.95 (274p) ISBN 978-0-393-06722-4

The hot, hip contemporary art world, argues sociologist Thornton, is a cluster of intermingling subcultures unified by the belief, whether genuine or feigned, that “nothing is more important than the art itself.” It is a conviction, she asserts, that has transformed contemporary art into “a kind of alternative religion for atheists.” Thornton, a contributor to and the New Yorker , presents an astute and often entertaining ethnography of this status-driven world. Each of the seven chapters is a keenly observed profile of that world's highest echelons: a Christie's auction, a “crit” session at the California Institute of the Arts and the Art Basel art fair. The chapter on auctions (where one auction-goer explains, “[I]t's dangerous to wear Prada.... You might get caught in the same outfit as three members of Christie's staff”) is one of the book's strongest; the author's conversations about the role of the art critic with Artforum editor-in-chief Tim Griffin and the New Yorker 's Peter Schjeldahl are edifying. Thornton offers an elegant, evocative, sardonic view into some of the art world's most prestigious institutions. 8 illus. (Nov.)

Reviewed on: 06/16/2008
Release date: 11/01/2008
Genre: Nonfiction
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