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Format: Gebundene Ausgabe
This is, hands-down, the single best guide for outsiders to the inner life of the art world, from the fledgling artists hoping to make their mark to the affluent collectors and the dealers, curators and advisors who surround them.
Her structure is carefully chosen and works beautifully -- breaking the art world down into seven parts, each devoted to a specific group or dimension (the auction, the studio visit, the art fair, etc.), she sheds light on the characters and issues that arise in the context of each. There is enough overlap to make this structure function -- for instance, we encounter gallerists Jeff Poe and Tim Blum first at ArtBasel, then rejoin them as part of her chapter on visiting Takashi Murakami's studio(s), where Poe and Blum discuss an upcoming retrospective with the artist and museum curators. To me, the most intriguing and enlightening part of this structure was the way it shifted, from one chapter to the next, from a view of the art from the outside (the perspective of the collector or the critic, say) to the inside (the creative process itself.) So, a chapter about the "crit" process at CalArts is followed immediately by one about the vast artworld schmoozefest that is ArtBasel (with the NetJets booth and the omnipresent champagne).
Thornton has an eye for that kind of telling detail that only the best journalists possess and a knack for knowing (most of the time) how to use it best. For instance, in the studio visit chapter, she spots the passports of Blum and Poe are crammed full of visas and entry and exit stamps -- not just a random observation but one that reflects the global nature of the art market itself, which requires its participants to dash from visiting a collector in Russia to an art fair in London and on to visit a studio in Beijing. The only downside of this "ethnographic" approach is that sometimes the details that she observes and includes as a result of this feel less useful -- we don't care how heavy her handbag begins to feel at ArtBasel, or how the Japanese car drivers in Toyama jump to open doors for visitors so that no fingerprint mars the shine on the car.
I've attended a number of Christie's auctions, stuffed into the uncomfortable press section that Thornton describes so accurately, and watched the bidding process. Reading this section, I felt as if I were back there again, experiencing the moments of boredom and tension that she chronicles so compellingly. There is no disconnect between my experience and her portrayal of it -- just additional level of background detail that I had never appreciated before (such as the fact that Christopher Burge has nightmares of being caught naked or without his sale "book" in front of an audience of a thousand angry would-be bidders).
The only area in which Thornton fails to deliver is describing the creative process itself in a way that the average reader will find comprehensible and compelling. But that, I suspect, is as much due to the inherent difficulty of discussing a visual art in words -- certainly, the young art students she profiles struggle as much themselves to do just this.
What impressed me the most -- in addition to the high level of reporting and writing -- was Thornton's ability to weave a path through all the politics and ego that fills the art market (and makes comparable nonsense on Wall Street and in Washington look like child's play in comparison...) Even as she chronicles the auction scene, she doesn't get caught up in the buzz and excitement or fall victim to the too-easy trap of criticizing people for being willing to pay outrageous sums for works of art. She addresses those concerns, most effectively in an anecdote where one collector, charged with selling her parents' immense collection to create a charitable foundation, muses on the auction process: "It's been a real loss of innocence... When you think of all the good that money could do... Nobody in the auction room thinks about that." But Thornton doesn't dwell on that, any more than she succumbs to the gushing that is all too often part of the art market. It's an admirably balanced portrayal.
All in all, a tour de force.
Anyone looking for more insider-y glimpses of the art world might turn to Collecting Contemporary, by a major collector, or to a novel penned by the wife of a hedge fund manager who is a force of sorts in the New York art scene: Lulu Meets God and Doubts Him.