33 artists in 3 acts

Sarah Thornton

Book - 2014

"Tells the story of [33 artists]: how they move through the world, command credibility, and create iconic works ... [including] visits with Ai Weiwei before and after his imprisonment and Jeff Koons as he woos new customers in London, Frankfurt, and Abu Dhabi. Thornton meets Yayoi Kusama in her studio around the corner from the Tokyo asylum that she calls home. She snoops in Cindy Sherman's closet, hears about Andrea Fraser's psychotherapist, and spends quality time with Laurie Si...mmons, Carroll Dunham, and their daughters Lena and Grace"--Amazon.com.

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2nd Floor 709.051/Thornton Due Sep 8, 2022
New York : W.W. Norton & Company 2014.
First American edition
Physical Description
xvi, 430 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
Includes bibliographical references (pages 383-389) and index.
Main Author
Sarah Thornton (author)
  • Act I. Politics. Scenes 1 to 17, featuring (in order of appearance) Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, Gabriel Orozco, Eugenio Dittborn, Lu Qing, Zeng Fanzhi, Wangechi Mutu, Kutluğ Ataman, Tammy Rae Carland, and Martha Rosler
  • Act II. Kinship. Scenes 1 to 10, featuring Elmgreen & Dragset, Maurizio Cattelan, Laurie Simmons, Carroll Dunham, Francis Alÿs, Cindy Sherman, Jennifer Dalton, William Powhida, Francesco Bonami, Grace Dunham, Lena Dunham, Rashid Johnson, and Massimiliano Gioni
  • Act III. Craft. Scenes 1 to 16, featuring Damien Hirst, Andrea Fraser, Jack Bankowsky, Christian Marclay, Marina Abramović, Grayson Perry, Yayoi Kusama, Cady Noland, Gabriel Orozco, Beatriz Milhazes, and Isaac Julien.
Review by Booklist Reviews

*Starred Review* The intrepid and inquisitive Thornton once again guides readers on a journey through the often confounding upper echelons of twenty-first-century art. In her best-selling Seven Days in the Art World (2008), this art historian, sociologist, and chief art writer for The Economist ushered us into art's spheres of commerce. In her new, even more revealing and resonant book, artists take center stage. Thornton is curious about how artists address concerns personal, societal, and professional. In the post-Duchampian world of anything-is-art-if-the-artist-says-it-is, many artists find that they cannot concentrate solely on making art because they need to establish a public persona to represent and promote their work. Therefore, Thornton perceives, artists' studios have become "private stages for the daily rehearsal of self-belief." The "3 acts" of the title refer to how this effort plays out in three realms— politics, kinship, and craft. Between 2009 and 2013, Thornton traveled to 14 countries on four continents and visited 130 artists. The 33 who made the cut are all well-established as well as, in most cases, "open, articulate, and honest." Curiously, Thornton discovered that the most problematic question she posed was, "What is an artist?" That's because, in part, the romantic view of the artist as a struggling loner has been eclipsed. Successful artists are now entrepreneurs and "ideas people liberated from manual labor" as they oversee sizable administrative and production staffs working in state-of-the-art facilities—digital versions, Thornton observes, of the bustling ateliers of top Renaissance painters. With her acutely perceptive reportorial eye and keen ear, Thornton not only discerningly profiles each artist; she also contrasts and compares them. In the book's most provocative pairing, Thornton considers the slick, calculating, megarich American Jeff Koons versus the courageous, forthright, besieged Chinese artist and human rights activist Ai Weiwei, famous for such installations as Sunflower Seeds (2010), in which 100 million handmade, painted porcelain sunflower seeds covered the floor of a vast hall in London's Tate Modern. Thornton meets with cheery Koons in his fancy, high-tech command center and tries to steer him away from his "well-rehearsed patter," while she is deeply moved by Ai's candor, determination, and ethical valor when she visits him in his raided and decimated studio after his arrest and grueling detention. Thornton runs into Koons at art events all around the world, while Ai, his passport confiscated, remains under house arrest, unable to attend the installation of his own exhibits in the U.S. and elsewhere. Thornton spends time with Koons' British counterpart, headline-grabbing, big-money Damien Hirst, who is trying to return to painting after years of putting sharks in tanks and covering skulls with jewels. She also illuminates the lives and work of such thoughtful, risk-taking, socially concerned, poetic, and ironic artists as, in Mexico, Gabriel Orozco, in Chile, Eugenio Dittborn. Each encounter is a revelation. In the "kinship" category, Thornton considers complications and affirmations within a family of artists: plucky and unnerving photographer Laurie Simmons, who has recently created a series of portraits of an eerily realistic Japanese sex doll; painter Carroll Dunham, who creates comically, grotesquely, and earthily explicit figures; and their daughter, writer-director-actor-producer Lena Dunham of HBO's Girls. Kinship takes on a broader definition in Thornton's portrait of photographer and sculptor Rashid Johnson, who is "fascinated with the problem of how to be black." Thornton reveals the artist behind the many masks of photographer Cindy Sherman and the disquieting personae of gutsy performance artists Kutlug Ataman, Andrea Fraser, and Marina Abramovic, who tells her, "Artists should be the oxygen of society." Collagist Wangechi Mutu, who confesses, "I am too obsessed with the emotions that my work exudes to outsource it," answers Thornton's central question, "What is an artist?," by defining artists as "individuals that speak for the group. . . . We're like a tattletale . . . or an alarm-raiser." Mutu also muses, "Art allows you to imbue the truth with a sort of magic, . . . so it can infiltrate the psyches of more people, including those who don't believe the same things as you." Exceptionally knowledgeable, receptive, witty, and crisply expressive, Thornton conveys a phenomenal amount of fresh information and frank and vivid impressions in her eye- and mind-opening forays into the art world's inner sanctums. Taken together, these vibrant portraits constitute an invaluable, incisive, and exciting guide to today's deliriously diverse, sophisticated, scandalous, and profound art world. Copyright 2014 Booklist Reviews.

Review by Publishers Weekly Reviews

Thornton (Seven Days in the Art World) paints a masterful picture of 33 artists, keenly bringing details of their lives to the surface with a skilled hand and without overwhelming the reader. The product of four years of work, the book is divided into its eponymous three acts; each chapter, or "scene," focuses on one artist, with artists sometimes appearing in multiple "scenes." The activist Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei, receives much favorable attention; one notable chapter takes place in the wake of his arrest at the hands of Chinese government authorities. Married American artists Caroll Dunham and Laurie Simmons are surveyed together, then separately, in multiple chapters, with Thornton exploring their artistic relationships and the gender dynamics therein. Thornton builds on such analyses to offer astute, accessible commentary on the gendered dimensions of modern art. With effortless sophistication, Thornton takes readers on a journey across the globe and into the homes and minds of contemporary artists. In the process, she banishes cynicism about modern art, revealing it to be a volatile, healthy enterprise still deeply engaged with the world. 44 illus. Agent: Sarah Chalfant, the Wylie Agency. (Nov.) [Page ]. Copyright 2014 PWxyz LLC

Review by Publisher Summary 1

A narrative assessment of the most influential living artists seeks to humanize and demystify contemporary art by illuminating the process of its creation as a reflection of artist psyches, politics, and social networks.

Review by Publisher Summary 2

A narrative assessment of today's most influential living artists seeks to humanize and demystify contemporary art by illuminating the process of its creation as a reflection of artist psyches, politics and social networks. 75,000 first printing.

Review by Publisher Summary 3

Thornton, best selling author of “Seven Days in the Art World,” explores the question “what is an author” in this collection of profiles of thirty-three contemporary artists. Artists range from international superstars to art teachers. Stories are divided in to three acts: Politics, Kinship and Craft. Each “scene” provides intimate details into the author’s life and explores the triumphs, crises and habits of successful artists. Examples of each artist’s work are also included. Artists profiled include Ai Weiwei, Carroll Dunham, and Jack Bankowsky. Artists and lay people alike will find this a fascinating and enjoyable read. Annotation ©2015 Ringgold, Inc., Portland, OR (protoview.com)

Review by Publisher Summary 4

This compelling narrative goes behind the scenes with the world’s most important living artists to humanize and demystify contemporary art.

Review by Publisher Summary 5

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