Editorial Reviews. From Publishers Weekly. Starred Review. The hot, hip contemporary art world, argues sociologist Thornton, is a cluster of intermingling . Read Seven Days in the Art World PDF - by Sarah Thornton W. W. Norton & Company | A fly-on-the-wall account of the smart and strange. Read Seven Days in the Art World PDF - by Sarah Thornton W. W. Norton & Company | An indelible portrait of a peculiar society.?VogueSarah.
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Seven Days in the Art World - Sarah Thornton - Free ebook download as PDF File .pdf), Text File .txt) or read book online for free. Sarah Thornton's vivid. On the other side of America, at the California Institute of the. Arts, or CalArts, as it is affectionately known, a very different part of the art world looks for multiple. The Art Book · Volume 16, Issue 4 · The Art Book banner. SEVEN DAYS IN THE ART WORLD BY SARAH THORNTON. STEPHANIE COTELA.
Shelves: read-in , art I hate this book. Or more accurately, I hate what this book focuses on. Now I need to state that my hatred is pretty moronic. It's Seven Days, which is the length of time most tourists give to some "foreign locale. What I hate is the tourist highlights she focuses on.
Give me a bid, but be prepared for me to exceed it, Sgalot warns his clients. I have created situations where I was anxious to speak to the collector after a sale because I had spent twice as much as agreed on major downloads. I try to formulate a question about the correlation between making money as a consultant and overpaying for art.
When consultants are on commission, they dont earn anything unless they download. When theyre on a retainer, no such conflict of interest gets in the way of the job. But as I struggle for the right words to broach this delicate subject, Sgalot looks at his watch.
A flash of alarm crosses his face. He apologizes, stands up, pays the bill, and says, It has been my pleasure. I sit, finishing my water and collecting my thoughts. Sgalot is infectiously zealous. We had been sitting for almost an hour and he had spoken with absolute conviction the entire time.
This is a talent essential to his job. On one level, the art market is understood as the supply and demand of art, but on another, it is an economy of belief. Art is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it is the operating clich.
Although this may suggest the relationship between a con artist and his mark, the people who do well believe every word The auction process is about managing confidence on all levelsconfidence that the artist is and will continue to be culturally significant, confidence that the work is a good one, confidence that others will not withdraw their financial support. The doors in the two-story glass wall of Christies lobby revolve continuously with a steady flow of ticket holders.
Many dealers and consultants are already here, as the evening sale is an opportunity to meet and greet the money. In the queue for the coat check, and again in the line to pick up paddles for bidding, people speculate about which objects are going to do well and who is likely to download what.
Everybody knows something. People drop their voices when they utter a name or a lot number, so you tend to hear only the verdict: Thats going to fly or That estimate is way off.
As people part ways to go to their seats, collectors say to each other Good luck and See you in Miami. Its all gleaming smiles. The crowd is international. You hear a lot of French in an array of Belgian, Swiss, and Parisian accents.
Belgium and Switzerland probably have the highest per capita ratios of contemporary art collectors. From after the war to the early s, London was the auction capital, but now the British city is a secondary site, where the downloaders tend to bid over the phone. Looking at this busy scene, it is hard to believe that New York was a provincial outpost of the art business until the late s. Christies started holding auctions here only in , but now, in the words of one Christies expert, The market is aliveall the major players are in the room.
I see David Teiger, a New Yorkbased collector in his late seventies. He is talking to a well-preserved woman close to his own age. What period do you collect? This morning, he responds. You like art by young artists?
I dont necessarily like it, but I download it, he jokes. Soare you bidding tonight? I dont come here to download. I come to smell the perfumethe aroma of what is in the ovento gauge where the public is going.
That is nothing to do with where I might go. Ill go somewhere overlooked or undervalued. Teiger prides himself on his independence; auctions have too much of a pack mentality for him. He bought Andy Warhol out of the Stable Gallerys show in You know how much I paid for it? Seven hundred and twenty dollars! Do you know when MoMA bought their first Warhol?
It wouldnt sit right with his adventurous self-image. Hes not that kind of collector.
So who downloads at auction? Many serious collectors of contemporary art download from primary dealers. Its a lot cheaper, if a lot riskier, to be ahead of the curve. On the secondary or resale market, the risk is lower, because the work has been market-tested.
All art is priceless, but assurance is expensive. A small percentage of collectors download only at auction. They like the discipline of the deadline, explains a Sothebys director. Theyre very busy, so the sale makes them get their act together. They like the open nature of the auction, especially if there is a visible underbidder willing to pay a similar price. They also like the certainty that theyve paid a market price on a given day in a given location.
One reason to download at auction is to avoid the time-consuming politicking expected by primary dealers, who, in the interest of building their artists careers, try to sell only to collectors who have the right reputation. The lines to download work, particularly by painters with limited annual output, can be very longso long, in fact, that many may never be deemed elite or erudite enough to be offered a work.
Some auction house people complain of the complete lack of material on the market and the undemocratic way in which primary dealers go about their business. Quite frankly, declares a Sothebys expert, I think the waiting lists are obscene. An auction gets rid of these hierarchical lists, because you can jump straight to the head of the queue just by putting your hand up last. I climb the stairs to the salesroom and join the members of the press, who are herded into a cramped standing-room area cordoned off by a red rope.
The spatial arrangement suggests that the press should know its place. In the hierarchy of this world of money and power, the reporters are visibly at the bottom.
As one collector said of a particular journalist, He obviously doesnt get paid very much. He doesnt really have access to important people, so hes reliant on scraps to put his articles together.
Its not much fun hanging around at the big table when youre not wanted there. One journalist, who writes for the New York Times, is an exception to the rule. Carol Vogel has an assigned seat in front of the red cordon that allows her to get up and strut up and down in front of the press pack in her high-heeled boots and gray bob.
She is the haughty embodiment of the power of her newspaper. I see Ms. Vogel talking to some of the top dealers and collectors. She obtains access because they want to influence her reports, even if their tips and insights amount to little more than generous helpings of spin. In the center of this jostling press pen is Josh Baer. He is not actually a journalist, but for over ten years hes been sending out an electronic newsletter called The Baer Faxt that reports on, among other things, who is downloading and underbidding at the auctions.
Baer looks a bit like Richard Gere; hes a cool New Yorker with thick silver hair and black-rimmed glasses. His mother is a minimalist painter of some repute and he ran a gallery for ten years, so he knows the milieu well. The newsletter contributes to the illusion of transparency, he admits.
People are overinformed and undereducated. They have this veneer of knowledge. They look at a painting and they see its price. They think the only value is an auction value. Although the art world in general and the art market in particular are opaque, when you are part of the confidential inner circle, there are fewer secrets. As Baer explains, People like to talk about themselves and to show that they know what they know.
Im fighting that urge right nowI have to fight the impulse to try to impress you that I am mportant. Most of the reporters here are interested in a narrow band of information. They take note of the prices and try to see who is bidding and downloading.
None of them are critics. They dont write about art, but trade in the currency of knowing who does what. One journalist is paddle spotting, or writing down the numbers of peoples paddles as they walk in so that later, when people are bidding, he can tell who bought the work when the auctioneer confirms the number aloud. Others are trying to clock who is sitting where.
The reporters grumble about their cramped quarters and their difficult sight lines. They laugh at the pompous collector who has been given a bad seat and banter about the best way to describe someone who is making his way to his chair.
Distinctive, says the understated British correspondent. Vulgar, says Baer. A clown, says an emphatic voice from the back of the pack. The salesroom seats a thousand people, but it looks more intimate. Ones seat is a mark of status and a point of pride.
Smack dab in the middle of the room, I see Jack and Juliette Gold not their real names , a pair of avid collectors, married with no kids, in their late forties. The truth is, confides Juliette later, youve got standing room, the terrible seats, the good seats, the very good seats, and the aisle seatsthey are the best. Youve got the big collectors who downloadtheyre at the front, slightly to the right. You have serious collectors who dont downloadtheyre toward the back.
Then, of course, you have the vendors, who are hiding up in the private skyboxes. Its a whole ceremony. With few exceptions, everyone sits in exactly the same spot they did last season. Another collector told me that the evening sale was like going to synagogue on the High Holidays. Everyone knows everybody else, but they only see each other three times a year, so they are chatting and catching up.
Anecdotes abound about unnamed collectors who became so immersed in gossip that they forgot to bid. Part of the pleasure of the auctions is the opportunity to be seen. Juliette is wearing a Missoni dress with no jewelry except for a whopping vintage Cartier diamond ring. Its dangerous to wear Prada, she warns. You might get caught in the same outfit as three members of Christies staff. Jack Sometimes Jack and Juliette download, sometimes they sell, but mostly they come because they love the sales.
Juliette is a romantic whose European parents collected art, and Jack is a pragmatist whose stock and property business influences his perspective. Juliette told me that an auction is like an opera with a language that you need to decipher.
Jack seems to agree but ultimately describes a very different event: Yes, even if you dont have a direct interest in the sale, youre emotionally involved because youll own similar works by ten of the artists. An auction is an instant evaluation. Tonights auction is more than a series of sixty-four straightforward business deals; it is a kaleidoscope of conflicting interpretations and financial agendas.
When I asked the couple why they thought collecting had become so popular in recent years, Juliette spoke about how so many more people were coming to understand that art could enrich their lives.
Jack, by contrast, thinks its because art has become an accepted way of diversifying your investment portfolio. Although it offends the sensibilities of older pure collectors, he says, the new collectors, who have been making their money in hedge funds, are very aware of alternatives for their money.
Cash pays so little return now that to invest in art doesnt seem like such a dumb idea. Thats why the art markets been so strongbecause there are few better options. If the stock market had two or three consecutive quarters of large growth, then, perversely, the art market might have a problem. The art world is so small and resolutely insular that it is not much affected by political problems. At the sales after September eleventh, explains Juliette, you had absolutely no sense of the reality of the world outside.
None whatsoever. I remember sitting in the sale that November and saying to Jack, Were going to come out of this room and the Twin Towers will be standing and everything will be good with the world.
Major disasters may not have an impact, but casual gossip has the power to break a work. Jack told me a story about friends who sold off their grandmothers collection. There was this beautiful Agnes Martin painting, but somehow the word got around that if you looked at it upside down, in a certain light, with your eyes closed, it was damaged.
So the whole art world suddenly That probably knocked half a million dollars off the price just because some idiot started a rumor. Conversely, when word gets out that an artist is going to move to Larry, everyone wants to download a work before the prices go nuts. He was referring to Larry Gagosian, one of the most powerful art dealers in the world, with galleries in New York, Los Angeles, London, and Rome, who invariably raises an artists prices by 50 percent when he starts representing him or her.
Most people confess to enjoying the intrigue. However, the competitive underside to the conversations is unbearable for some. A London dealer who wishes he could avoid the auctions explained: Between you and me, everyone is so full of shit. The people are all running after each other. The chat is full of subterfuge and sleazy art world stories. Its like a tableau vivant of pretentious greed.
You walk in, and everyones so happy and How are you? Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to Christies and to this evenings sale of postwar and contemporary art. He reads out the rules about conditions of sale, commission fees, and taxes. Burge calls out Lot one and starts the bidding off: Forty-four thousand, fortyeight thousand, fifty thousand, fifty-five thousand.
He seems more relaxed than he was when the room was empty. To his left, a large black-and-white scoreboard or currency converter records the sums in U.
To his right, a screen depicts a color slide so the audience can be certain which work is on the block. To both sides of Burge are rows of Christies staff standing in two wooden enclosures that look like jury boxes. Many of them are on the phone, talking to people who are, or soon will be, bidding. Some downloaders are not in town, and others want to protect their anonymity. Someone like Charles Saatchi, the advertising mogul turned secondary-market art dealer, never comes to the sales.
Very conscious of publicity, he either bids on the phone or sends someone to bid in the room. If he wins a work, particularly for a record price, he can make it well-known after the fact. If he loses one, no one is the wiser and he doesnt lose face. From the first to the final bid, the deal took just over a minute and a half. Deals are quicker when works sell near their low estimate, but when the final price is three times the high estimate, as was the case with this lot, it takes a little longer.
Either way, an auction is a staggeringly swift way to sell art. Lot two is next, says Burge. The Richard Prince showing there on my right. In this case ninety thousand starting. Ninety thousand for it. Ninety-five thousand, one hundred thousand, thank you.
One hundred ten, one hundred twenty, sir? Yes, one hundred twenty, one hundred thirty Its no coincidence that none of the evening auctioneers of art in New York are American. Tobias Meyer, Sothebys chief auctioneer, is German, while Simon de Pury, the auctioneer and co-owner of the smaller specialist contemporary art auction house Phillips de Pury, is French-Swiss. Burge, of course, is British. They bring a measure of European urbanity to a series of crude transactions.
In another gesture toward Old World gentility, auction house sales personnel are officially called specialists and informally referred to as experts.
They apply art-historical knowledge to market trends in order to evaluate works, bring them into a sale, and then drum up interest in the lots. In the words of one expert, however, were really analysts and brokers.
Amy Cappellazzo, a specialist who is also the codirector of the Post-War and Contemporary Art Department at Christies, is an animated brunette with twinkling eyes and a no-nonsense way of talking. She is one of the few Americans in the upper echelons of the company and currently the only female head of a major grossing department.
During our presale interview, she was high-energy, but now she looks almost serene. I never get jitters during the sale itself, she says. At that point, all our hard work is done.
We spend about eighty percent of our time getting great things for sale and twenty percent of our time lining up downloaders. Obtaining great work is the key. We increasingly have to remind clients that if they turned a work on their wall into a liquid asset, it could be worth more than their entire home.
The bidding on Princes Untitled Cowboy , an artists proof being sold to benefit Tibet House, has stopped, and Burge is attempting to squeeze another bid out of the audience. Eye contact is essential. He looks at each individual bidder as if that person were the only one in the room. Two hundred and sixty thousand. Two hundred seventy, madam? Still against you standing. One more from you at the back? At two-sixty on the telephone and against you all here.
Im selling, fair warning, at two hundred and sixty thousand dollars. Burge raps his hammer, and half the crowd lean over their catalogues to write down the price.
One thing you do learn from experience, says Burge, is when a bidder has more life in them than theyre saying. Sometimes they shake their head to say no. An inexperienced auctioneer will take them at their word and not look back, but an old hand knows that this collector has really got another bid in them.
When some dealers or private collectors shake their heads, its clear you dont have to deal with them anymore. Theyre very controlled. That was it, not a penny more. Others, you can feel that they are still wavering. They are talking to a spouse or a friend.
Hes very eager and shes doing the bidding. Or he said no and she wants to go on. You see all of that from the rostrum. I hate this salesroom, says Vogel. You cant see the bidders. The reporters dont have the benefit of Burges elevated face-on view, nor do they have access to his confidential book. Four names go back and forth, but they are still not sure. Sometimes an auction feels like a whodunit where thrills are provided by the large sums and mystery created by the shy or shady bidders who avoid the eye of the press.
Burges astute psychological reading of the room is essential to the way he does his job. His perspective on the behavioral minutiae of the bidders is second to none. About two lots before someone bids, he reveals, they will start doing small things that signal to me that they are interested in a lot. People sit up straighter in their seats, they adjust their jacket, begin to look a little nervous. Even if they have been doing this all their lives, hardened It means that in a lot or two, theyre going to bid on something.
I pick that up, because their body language is so different from the regular slump. But, I press, some of the most powerful collectors and dealers, like the Nahmads, are so casual. They apathetically raise a finger as if it just occurred to them to bid. The Nahmad family reputedly once owned 20 percent of the worlds privately held Picassos, but they now download huge quantities of contemporary art.
Rumor has it that they never spend cash, because when they are downloading in the contemporary sale, they are selling something in the impressionist saleconstantly rotating old for new stock. They have been around for a long time, says Burge, but there is usually some sort of family conference going on as we head into the lot, so I know something is afoot. Moreover, we know what they bid on. David Nahmad loves to download things back that he has owned before, and in some cases I will know exactly what he is planning because I will have talked to him at length before the sale.
Were already on Lot 4, a painting by Marlene Dumas. Josh Baer leans over: You notice they started the bidding above the high estimate. One bidder has just left his paddle in the air. Hes steamrolling, an aggressive tactic to put others off. The bids are coming in at an incredible pace. Burge barely has time to breathe: Whats that? Eight hundred eighty thousand. Someone has offered a split bid.
He or she is trying to slow down the sale by cutting the bidding into smaller increments. Nine hundred thousand dollars in the room. Against you all on this side. Auctioneers dont like to accept cut bids, because the sale can lose momentum. However, at the moment, the bidding is three times over the high estimate and well over the artists record price, so Burge decides to be gracious.
Large amounts of money command hushed respect, and unexpected amounts create a stunned stillness. Everyone wonders, will the painting get over the psychological hurdle of the million mark? One of Christies spotters signals to Burge that there is a new bidder, standing at the very back of the room. One million dollars, Burge says with subtle triumph. Whered that bid come from? The press pack wants to know, and even collectors turn around in their seats to catch a glimpse of the mysterious bidder who has entered the fray at the eleventh hour.
Some people like to come into the bidding late because it suggests that there is no limit to how high they can go. Auctions are full of ego and posturing. Its important to bid with style. One million dollars, repeats Burge with a faint trace of amusement.
One million fiftyone million one. Its back to the late entrant hidden from view at the back. One million, one hundred thousand dollars. Fair warning now. Not yours. Last chance. Selling to you at the back. The volume of chat surges with the hammer. Paddle four-oh-four. Thank you, says Burge. I hear laughing.
A couple of people shake their heads in disbelief. A voice deep from within the press pit exclaims, One point one! Will anyone know who she is in twenty years?
Other people exchange affirmative nods as if to say, Yes, were backing the right horse. The reporters are having a mini-conference about who could have bought the Dumas. There are clear differences in how high people are willing to bid, depending on whether they are crazy committed collectors or dealers downloading for long-term inventory. Everyone assumes that only a crazy collector would have paid that price. But who? From her position among the rows of Christies people, Amy Cappellazzo gives a knowing wink to someone in the audience.
The Dumas painting is medium-sized and predominantly red. It appears to depict a woman looking expectantly out from under her bangs at the viewer. Her finger is phallic and coquettishly touches the lower of her gently open lips.
Cappellazzo is refreshingly unpretentious. When I asked her, What kind of art does well at auction? First, people have a litmus test with color.
Brown paintings dont sell A glum painting is not going to go as well as a painting that makes people feel happy. Second, certain subject matters are more commercial than others: A male nude doesnt usually go over as well as a buxom female. Third, painting tends to fare better than other media.
Collectors get confused and concerned about things that plug in. They shy away from art that looks complicated to install. Finally, size makes a difference. Anything larger than the standard dimension of a Park Avenue elevator generally cuts out a certain sector of the market. Cappellazzo is keen to make clear that these are just basic commercial benchmarks that have nothing to do with artistic merit.
So whats the relationship between aesthetic value and economic value? I ask. Its not fully correlative. There are lots of wonderful artists who dont have strong markets. What is the correlation between good looks and good fortune in life? It is that kind of discussion. Its moot. Its nihilistic. Both good looks and aesthetic value are in the eye of the beholder, but beholders are social animals that tend to consciously and unconsciously cluster into consensuses.
Cappellazzo doesnt apologize for the market. It is what it is. I used to be a curator, she says. Its one of my personal jokes.
Gilbert and George may be Britains most important conceptual artists, but on this occasion they are no competition for the less prolific, hip-and-happening Italian. The catalogue is the auction houses main marketing tool.
Its a full-color, glossy tome on which the images on the front and back covers are part of the negotiations meant to entice vendors to consign their art with Christies. This Cattelan work, a self-portrait in which he peers through a hole in the floor, not only graces the back cover of the catalogue but is also reproduced on the invitation-only ticket.
The Maurizio market its de rigueur to refer to living artists by their first name is much debated. Cattelan is a cynical prankster who polarizes opinion. Some people think he is the Marcel Duchamp of the twenty-first century, others say he is the over-hyped Julian Schnabel of our time. It can initially be difficult to distinguish innovators from charlatans, because the former challenge extant versions of artistic authenticity in such a way that they can easily look like pretenders.
The test is in the perceived depth and longevity of their intervention in art history. Some heavyweight collectors download Cattelans work in such serious bulk that it leads others to complain that his market is manipulated. However, as one consultant puts it, Its not manipulationits more unconditional support.
William Acquavella, mutters Baer as he scribbles in his catalogue. Acquavella is a wealthy second-generation dealer whose gallery is located in a plush townhouse on East Seventy-ninth Streetone of the few who can afford to download at that price for inventory. For consultants and dealers, downloading in the room acts as an advertisement for their services. Lot 7 is one of three Ed Ruscha paintings for sale this evening. Baer grumbles Meltzer and Gagosian, the downloader and underbidder.
Gagosian represents Ruscha on the primary market and protects his artists at auction. If Ruscha were to go out of favor, Gagosian would probably download key paintings and sit it out until the artist came back into fashion. Lot 8 is a Gursky photograph. It exceeds its high estimate but sells for well below the artists record.
It is not one of his more celebrated works. In general, this auction is bearing witness to an incredibly strong market. Every season we wait for the big correction, says Jack Gold. No boom lasts forever, adds Juliette. Its not a bubble until it bursts, say those in the business.
I ask Josh Baer about the endless bull market. As he peers over the crowd, he replies nonchalantly, Without auctions, the art world wouldnt have the financial value it has. They give the illusion of liquidity. He stops to jot down the starting bid of Lot 10, then continues. A liquid market is the New York Stock Exchange.
Someone will download your IBM stock at a price. There is no law to say that someone will download your Maurizio, but the auctions give a sense that most of the time, most things will sell.
If people thought they couldnt resellor that if they died, their heirs couldnt sellmany wouldnt download a thing. And a few people who putter on with the occasional show or as an art professor at some university.
It happened in two places: in the studio and in "the social scenes that artists live in. Until you're successful, you will work alone, or, at best, in a studio near a friend, who is also working alone. The time in a studio is insanely private, until you need assistants which is another fucked-up topic entirely. But tons of time is spent with peers at each other's studios, getting high or drinking and looking at each other's work. Or more often, at a cafe or a bar, talking about process and gossiping and, "Have you seen Person X's new work?
The value of art happens as gossip between artists. And that talk flows to peers who are roughly the same age who have galleries or write for obscure web art publications. And that talk about who is good coalesces and congeals. And only after that gossipy talk has formed into blocks does it filter up to Art Forum or a mid-list gallery, and only after years does that flow up to a spot at the Venice Biennale, or a prominent spot in a money gallery that can afford to go to Basel.
This book is a snap shot of an art world that forgot and continues to forget that those massive Money and Cultural Institutions are barnacles on the vibrant ass of the art world. They, like the parasitical rich whose genitals are constantly slurped at, are after thoughts that claim glory, when the glory was already established.
At the end of her book is a brief note in which she explains her methodology. Its main research method, "participant observation", is a cluster of qualitative tools, which include first-hand experience of the environment, visual observation, attentive listening, casual interviewing and analysis of key documents. The rest of us call this journalism. This particular ethnographic odyssey, according to a rather pert video of Thornton on YouTube, took her five years to complete, during which time she interviewed, formally or informally, people, among them Charles Saatchi and Larry Gagosian.
Unfortunately, this research is not always apparent in her minute-by-minute narratives '2pm: time to meet an Italian collector for lunch The likes of Saatchi, an extraordinary and fascinating case study when it comes to modern collecting, and Gagosian, a gallerist who is known to protect his artists' stock with a fierceness you might ordinarily only expect to find on a Wall Street trading floor, are not quoted at length in her book, presumably because they insisted on speaking off the record several collectors who are quoted are given made-up, Tom Wolfe-ish names like Dwight Titan and Sofia Ricci.
In which case, why mention, in your acknowledgments, that you talked to them at all? No one likes a tease. Still, Thornton has bagged a few big beasts. Naturally, most of these people are pretty circumspect about what they say to Thornton, however attentively she listens. Disappointingly, the Rubell family of Miami, the owners of a fairly significant collection of contemporary art, won't let her follow them round Art Basel, the most important art fair in the world: 'That's like asking to come into our bedroom!
At an auction at Christie's in New York, a well-known collector, Juliette Gold not her real name , incisively analyses why the bidding on a painting by Warhol, Mustard Race Riot, has been somewhat stuttery: 'It's a great historical piece, but it's not a very appealing colour and it's too large to hang easily in one's home.