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Book Review
‘Seven Days in the Art World’ by Sarah Thornton
The art market has been going through a wavy phase of ups and downs as is the case with most asset classes. However, art as investment retains relevance and attraction as is evident from a stream of successful auctions and surging museum attendance world over. More people than ever are keen on knowing about art and art investment. Contemporary art has widened its mass base. It has enhanced its value in every sense.

In a series of well-thought and flowing, easy-paced narratives, Sarah Thornton thoroughly investigates the drama of a leading auction house, then pans out and zooms on the elite Basel Art Fair, looks at the eccentricities of Artforum magazine, digs the competition behind an important art prize, experiences life in a notorious art-school seminar, and basks in the glory of the Venice Biennale.

In the process, the author reveals the new changing dynamics of creativity, status, money power, taste, and the search for meaning in today’s complex life through art. She does so based on interviews with high-profile players in the industry.

Sarah Thornton has graduated in art history and sociology (She has a BA in Art History plus a PhD in Sociology). The London based writer regularly contributes to BBC TV, and The New Yorker on topics related to art world and the art market. It gives a kaleidoscopic view of the modern-art boom.

A vivid, witty panorama of probably the most critical cultural phenomenon of the last decade is how The Sunday Times (London) describes the book. Art critic Ken Johnson mentions that the book serves as a field guide to the insular, nomadic tribes of the contemporary art world.

The critic adds: “Ms. Thornton shadows high-level artists, critics, dealers and curators - from to auction to biennale to studio to fair. She deftly navigates competing agendas. Where others would be content merely gawking and gossiping, the author pushes her well-chosen subjects to explore the questions ‘What makes a work of art great?’ and ‘What is an artist?’ It was reported and written in a heated market, and is poised to endure as a work of sociology.”

The book is divided into seven day-in-the-life chapters. Each one focuses on a different aspect of the contemporary art world. She provides an understanding of the subtle power dynamics, which deftly animate all these interconnected milieus. ‘Seven Days’ allows the reader to both laugh at as well as empathize with those who perceive contemporary art as a kind of alternative religion.

She spent nearly five years researching for the book. She tried to grasp, among other things, why wealthy collectors purchase expensive artworks. There are a variety of reasons, she concluded, including vanity, an appetite for novelty, social status, and, most importantly, an acute excess of money.

‘Seven Days in the Art World’ (W. W. Norton & Company, $24.95) is a juicy account of the institutions, which have the power to shape and alter art history. Her entertaining ethnography sure will change the way one looks at contemporary art & culture scene. Ten translations - German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Dutch, French, Korean, Portuguese (for Brazil), and Chinese will follow this year.

It’s an entertaining, lucid account of the mysterious, perplexing ways of contemporary art, without any bias or opinionated version. Reviewing the book Mia Fineman of the New York Times concludes: “cliquish, status-obsessed and catty, awash in insecurity and also plagued by conflicting desires to stand out and to fit in – is what might be mentioned of the contemporary art world, especially during the glitzy boom years chronicled by Ms Thornton in her entertaining new book.

“Today, as the art market heads for its first major crash since 1990, the situation this book echoes so engagingly — new money’s glamorous infatuation with new art — is rapidly coming to an end. Maybe now she, or someone else, can tell us what it all really meant.”