33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton - review by Brian Dillon

Brian Dillon

Movers & Makers

33 Artists in 3 Acts


Granta Books 430pp £20 order from our bookshop

In 2008 Sarah Thornton, then chief reporter on contemporary art for The Economist, published Seven Days in the Art World, a brisk but informative account of time spent among artists, dealers, collectors and museum curators. Although the book was framed unconvincingly as an ethnography of this exotic milieu, and had little of note to say about actual works of art, it performed a certain documentary role. Thornton had penetrated airless precincts of commerce and patronage just before a chill economic wind blew through art-fair pavilions, spooking the occupants of their VIP corrals. Seven Days in the Art World now seems like a piece of historical evidence, in a way Thornton’s latest book cannot possibly match. But a lack of timeliness is not the main problem with 33 Artists in 3 Acts. Rather, Thornton has amassed, during four years of what she insists was ‘research’ into the attitudes and practices of contemporary artists, a volume of such killing banality that the eye practically slides off its pages.

33 Artists in 3 Acts is essentially a collection of workaday journalistic profiles, some of them – Jeff Koons, Ai Weiwei, Maurizio Cattelan – based on several encounters and woven through the book in an effort at argument or narrative. As its title suggests, it is divided into three numbered

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