A Fashionable Art

The art world is an exclusive, strictly members only club which one can only dream about setting heeled-foot inside. It is a closed sphere, designed by insiders for insiders. Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World is an outsider’s saving grace. It is our name on the guest list, our means of almost unlimited access to the seemingly outlandish, mysterious art world and its curious happenings.

Documenting a journey over seven disparate days of a year, Thornton participates in her own sociological experiment; casting herself in the role of jet-setting journalist as she infiltrates seven key scenes of the art world. She shadows the artist at work in his studio; the specialist of the auction-house; the bohemian student attending art school; the prospective buyer at the art fair; the winner and runners-up of a coveted art prize; the journalist at the art magazine; and the curator at the biennale. In Thornton’s company, we find ourselves mingling in high profile circles with all of art’s key players: artists, critics, dealers, designers, curators, collectors, museum directors, auctioneers, art journalists. We brush shoulders with the art elite: John Baldessari, Nicholas Serota, Larry Gagosian, Charles Saatchi, Takashi Murakami, Marc Jacobs… the list goes on. And she does like to name-drop.

Seven Days in the Art World neither praises nor defends the art world. Rather, Thornton lets the multiple voices of the art world speak for themselves in a sound, balanced documentary narrative. Thornton is the perfect journalist, observing her surroundings with just the right amount of passive and impassive. Her research is not, as she aptly puts it, “fly on the wall” but instead a ‘“cat on the prowl”, for a good participant observer is more like a stray cat. She is curious and interactive but not threatening. Occasionally intrusive, but easily ignored.’ Seven Days in the Art World, like her reporting skills, offers the perfect balance. Never commonplace or cliché, Thornton writes with great wit and originality while her book stays grounded and, one gets the impression, perpetually honest. This is journalism at its very best.

As Thornton’s project progresses, the art and fashion worlds collide most stylishly. There’s even a mention of Takashi Murakami’s signature design for Louis Vuitton, as Thornton is given permission to watch Murakami in his studio in Japan. Oh, and the journalist gets to chat to none other than Mr Marc Jacobs on the phone, as if we weren’t jealous enough already. As the lucky journalist notes, ‘Collecting art has increasingly become like buying clothes. As a Sotheby’s specialist explains, “We buy a pair of trousers and we wear them for three years and then move on. Is it right that the trousers sit in the cupboard for the next twenty-five years? Our lives are constantly changing. Different things become relevant at different times in our lives…Why can that not be applied to art as well?”’ Thornton usefully keeps track of the vagaries of the art scene, which change with the seasons; as frequently as couture collections. One can only hope that Thornton’s book stays immune to the ever-changing and sometimes shallow tides of the art world. Still, Thornton’s account of the recent art scene might just be a timeless classic that, like a Louis Vuitton handbag with that infamous Murakami design, will never go out of style. Only time will tell…

Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton (Granta Books, 2009)

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