Book Review: Seven Days in the Art World

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Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled (Taxidermied horse skin and fiberglass resin); Art Basel, Switzerland; Takashi Murakami; a scene from an auction at Sotheby’s.

7 days art world“It’s like having your own spy in the art world. Thornton parachutes the reader into the fascinating nitty-gritty of how it all works.” – Alan Yentor, BBC creative director

Although I work professionally in the arts, I feel somewhat removed from what I would describe as the epicenter of the art world. I’m not sure exactly where that is, but I associate it with auction houses, international art fairs, and living superstar artists who fetch millions of dollars for their work. I also associate it with enormous amounts of stress, competition, money, and drama.

What I do feel connected to, however, is a momentous shift in interest in art making, art seeing, and art buying, just in the ten years since I started working at the Sabatini Gallery. In Topeka alone, there are more people than ever calling themselves artists. Studio spaces are popping up all over town, and the list of participating venues in the First Friday ArtWalk seems to grow each month. We even have two official arts districts: one in North Topeka (NOTO) and in the Potwin area for Fiber Arts.

So, I was really excited to discover Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton, because I wanted to know what life is like where the heaviest of hitters live and if my typical day is anything like theirs. Oh my goodness, it is not.

Based on hundreds of hours of research and being allowed in to participate, Thornton was able to get behind the scenes of seven high-energy, high-stakes art world environments.

Beginning with a day at Christie’s auction house in New York City, Thornton breaks down the hierarchy and social structure of how people behave at this unique art auction, who the players are, what happens when, and watches the jaw-dropping purchases from unseen buyers reach into the hundreds of millions of dollars.

Thornton then attends a seemingly endless art critique at CalArts with Michael Asher, where students talk about their and others’ work for 48-hour stretches. Next she flies to Basel, Switzerland for one of the most prestigious art fairs in the world. Here she tags along with world-renowned gallery owners and art patrons competing like crazy for the next big purchase, and discovers the social dos and don’ts of art buying.

She hangs out with four former Turner Prize nominees—Britain’s most prestigious contemporary art prize—and witnesses first-hand the stress involved from just being nominated. She visits the magazine offices of Artforum International, the studio of Takashi Murakami (one of the most sought-after living artists today), and wraps up this tour de force at the Venice Biennale, one of the major art exhibitions in the world today.

Seven Days in the Art World is an absolutely thrilling journey, and oddly enough, familiar to a certain extent. I started this book feeling quite separate from Thornton’s experiences, but what I took away from it are that ambition and stress are universal. So is the desire to make art that matters. And the love of owning an original creation.

Topeka, Kansas is the art world. The only real difference is in scale (and maybe nicer shoes.) 

Heather Kearns

I've been the Sabatini Gallery's associate curator since 2004 and social media coordinator since 2008. My passion is helping people “get“ art, and by that I mean creating an environment both in-house and online which fosters a greater understanding, confidence, and sense of enjoyment from the art experience. Art should be easy to access and available to everyone. I take helping people very seriously.