This doesn’t happen very often. It’s highly unusual for someone in an industry to critique its inner workings. Think about the uproar Greg Smith’s public resignation letter from Goldman Sachs caused. Closer to home, I’m still shocked by how far the New Museum controversy around the Skin Fruit exhibition reverberated into the mainstream.
I think it’s fair to say that Sarah Thornton, who is best known for her book Seven Days in the Art World, is financially able to walk away from covering the market, even as she notes how awful the pay is. She’s also a sociologist and can cover other areas of culture that may or may not be as dismal as the upper tiers of the high-priced art market. This freedom lets Thorton speak candidly about an industry too often run on personal relationships, and her top reasons offer a sharp, insightful critique that speaks for itself.
I hope journalists won’t go on the defensive, but take Thorton’s public resignation from writing about the art market as a challenge to follow stories and do the kind of writing that might not make oligarchs, auction houses, and blue chip dealers happy. It’s also a challenge to write about bias and collusion without getting sued for libel. While laws make this tough, it shouldn’t silence journalists or prevent them from a measured approach to complex issues that accompany the exchange of vast sums of money in a largely unregulated market, particularly in the US.
In the end, Thorton’s reasons point towards some possible areas for even modest, limited regulation of the secondary auction market where money is agency, not the ideals of artists or the words of critics.
Read Sarah Thornton’s “Top 10 Reasons Not to Write About the Art Market,” which is an article published in Francesco Bonami’s TAR magazine, but to get you started, here are the first five bullets (without the accompanying paragraphs):
- It gives too much exposure to artists who attain high prices.
- It enables manipulators to publicize the artists whose prices they spike at auction.
- It never seems to lead to regulation.
- The most interesting stories are libelous.
- Oligarchs and dictators are not cool.
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