A great commercial conspiracy

August 24, 2010

Dear Rodney,"Seven Days in the Art World," by Sarah Thornton, gives a chapter each to seven 
venues: "The Auction" takes us to Christie's in London--an inside look at who bids 
and who gets what, and why, and how prices are cleverly pushed. "The Crit" finds 
us at the "artstarmaker" CalArts school in Los Angeles for a laid-back marathon 
crit where the instructor has little to say and the students make small sense of 
their efforts. "The Fair" takes us to Basel and the world's most influential art 
fair where all the right stuff is hastily discussed and inhaled by the right 

"The Prize" takes us to the arm-twisting boardroom and knighted hierarchy of the 
annual Turner Prize--twenty-five thousand quid for the "Best Artist in Britain." 
"The Magazine" introduces us to the management, staff, contributors and advertisers 
of Artforum, the NY-based influential art journal that not many people seem to be 
able to read. "The Studio Visit" hops over to the Tokyo factories of international 
fashionista artist Takashi Murakami where hundreds of talented workers carry out 
his ideas and seed their own careers. "The Biennale" spirits us up the Lido Canal 
to Venice, where participating nations parade their hottest and youngest. Everyone 
dines, drinks and speeds from show to show in "vaporettos."

Sarah tiptoes through all this, taking notes, dropping names, recording and 
observing everything from clothes to tics, seldom making an unwelcome judgment. 
It's a hoot. Most of the art is of the installation variety--bound eventually for 
museums and public view, but there are also lots of significant paintings and 
sculptures. While we might, at first glance, appear to be in an age of low 
craftsmanship, there is a sensible interest in what may become the great and 
lasting art of tomorrow. Everyone is trying to spot a winner.

Remarkably, the venues Sarah covers are often attended by the same curators, 
critics, dealers, collectors and sometimes the currently-popular artists 
themselves. It's a small, international microcosm of deal-making and mutual 
back-scratching. While there may be meanness and jealousy in the ranks, all are 
agreed that quality is king, passion is the emotion of choice and the great search 
for artistic meaning is well worth the effort of backing out your private jet. 

Best regards,


PS: "It's very possibly a great commercial conspiracy. The newness of now, which is 
quite obsessive, is actually a reflection of the consumerism that you see in the 
whole culture. It can be a lot of fun if it is to your taste." (Nicholas Logsdail, 

Esoterica: In Sarah's world, the bucks are big and everyone is subject to the 
intransigence of personality and the fickle finger of fashion. But the same goes 
for any midsize village where there happens to be artists, gurus, studios, 
galleries, media, community fairs, picture buyers and benefactors, however modest. 
Injustice and joy lurk at every turn. Private choice is always to be tested 
against those who might wish to be in control. What a wonderful game!