Seven Days in the Art World comprises a series of narratives about seven events and situations in the art world that includes 250 interviews, countless observational episodes in the five years that it took Thornton to research the book. These events include a Christie’s auction in New York; a graduate students’ seminar at the California Institute for the Arts; the Art Basel fair; the 2006 Turner Prize; the New York magazine Artforum; the studio/factory of Japanese artist Murakami; and finally, the Venice Biennale. By all expectations, the book should be a page turner and a definitive read for those associated with the art world. However, the book is limited in its fact finding and the self inclusion of the author’s frenzied meetings, observations and interviews ends up sounding more like self aggrandizement than a personal objective viewpoint.
Having just read and reviewed the wonderfully insightful book by Don Thompson, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, on the machinations of the contemporary art world by galleries, collectors, artists and buyers, Seven Days in the Art World seems pedantic in its platitudes. At first glance there’s a lot of the ‘I’ factor as if Thornton does not want you to escape her presence at any time during the reading of the book. Then there’s the dull minute-to-minute update (“2.00 pm: Time to meet an Italian collector for lunch”, p92) on visits to auctions houses and meetings with ‘important’ people like the art consultant Philippe Segalot during which she tells us she orders the same fish carpaccio and sparkling water as the great art influencer himself! Thornton applauds Segalot’s admission that he doesn’t read about art. He says “I’m not interested in the literature about art. I get all the art magazines, but I don’t read them. I don’t want to be influenced by the reviews. I look. I fill myself with images.” Thornton is quick to comment on his “bravado” at his willingness to admit his complete lack of interest in criticism or commentary.
Thornton’s chapter The Crit comprises the experience of a critique at the California Institute for the Arts, which is perhaps Thornton’s way of understanding the seeds of the art market. But the ambience of the classroom comes across more like a group of wannabe esoterics and bored bohemians, all a bit pointless in the scheme of things. The students describe their peers in terms of being “overinstitutionalized, domineeringly PC, and macho, all at the same time”. Another refers to a colleague as being “so minimal and abstract that sometimes I think he might dematerialize before our very eyes”. Seems like a verbose class, but one that contributes minimally to a substantive general discussion.
Thornton’s book has little to offer by way of research and information and relies on glib comments by collectors, gallerists, dealers and consultants. She says she is writing an ethnographic account of the art world which uses the research method of participant observation. But the commentative tone of the book belies her purpose and gives us very little fact and substance to go home with.