Cover image for 33 artists in 3 acts
33 artists in 3 acts
Thornton, Sarah (Sarah L.), author.
First American edition.
Publication Information:
New York : W.W. Norton & Company, 2014.
Physical Description:
xvi, 430 pages : illustrations, map ; 25 cm
"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 Simmons, Carroll Dunham, and their daughters Lena and Grace"
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.
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
N8351 .T49 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area
N8351 .T49 2014 Adult Non-Fiction Open Shelf

On Order



The best-selling author of Seven Days in the Art World now tells the story of the artists themselves--how they move through the world, command credibility, and create iconic works.

33 Artists in 3 Acts offers unprecedented access to a dazzling range of artists, from international superstars to unheralded art teachers. Sarah Thornton's beautifully paced, fly-on-the-wall narratives include 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 Simmons, Carroll Dunham, and their daughters Lena and Grace.

Through these intimate scenes, 33 Artists in 3 Acts explores what it means to be a real artist in the real world. Divided into three cinematic "acts"--politics, kinship, and craft--it investigates artists' psyches, personas, politics, and social networks. Witnessing their crises and triumphs, Thornton turns a wry, analytical eye on their different answers to the question "What is an artist?"

33 Artists in 3 Acts reveals the habits and attributes of successful artists, offering insight into the way these driven and inventive people play their game. In a time when more and more artists oversee the production of their work, rather than make it themselves, Thornton shows how an artist's radical vision and personal confidence can create audiences for their work, and examines the elevated role that artists occupy as essential figures in our culture.

Author Notes

Sarah Thornton's Seven Days in the Art World was named one of the best art books of the year by the New York Times and is available in sixteen languages. She was the chief writer on contemporary art for the Economist. She holds a BA in art history and a PhD in sociology.

Reviews 2

Booklist Review

*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.--Seaman, Donna Copyright 2014 Booklist

Publisher's Weekly Review

Starred Review. 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.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents

Jeff Koons and Ai Weiwei and Gabriel Orozco and Eugenio Dittborn and Lu Qing and Zeng Fanzhi and Wangechi Mutu and Kutlug Ataman and Tammy Rae Carland and Martha RosierMaurizio Cattelan and Laurie Simmons and Carroll Dunham and Francis Alys and Cindy Sherman and Jennifer Dalton and William Powhida and Francesco Bonami and Grace Dunham and Lena Dunham and Rashid Johnson and Massimiliano GioniAndrea Fraser and Jack Bankowsky and Christian Marclay and Marina Abramovic and Grayson Perry and Yayoi Kusama and Cady Noland and Gabriel Orozco and Beatriz Milhazes and Isaac Julien
Introductionp. xiii
Act I Politics
Scenes 1 to 17, featuring (in order of appearance)p. 1
Act II Kinship
Scenes 1 to 19, featuring Elmgreen & Dragsetp. 115
Act III Craft
Scenes 1 to 16, featuring Damien Hirstp. 255
Acknowledgmentsp. 379
Selected Bibliographyp. 383
Creditsp. 391
Indexp. 399