Sarah Thornton, Art Market Star

The Scotsman Goes to the Hirst Auction with Sarah Thornton

The subhed on this Scotsman story about attending the Hirst sale with art market author, Sarah Thorton, gives you fair warning: “Sarah Thornton cut her academic teeth in Glasgow and sank them deep into the booming contemporary art market. She bares her fangs for Jackie McGlone.” Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art World comes out in November. Until then:

In the end, the most talked about art auction of recent times doesn’t quite live up to the hype, but Thornton is very good company. “Who’s bidding on the phone with that Sotheby’s employee who I happen to know speaks Russian?” she whispers as we sit among the hack pack observing proceedings. [ . . . ] Roman Abramovich perhaps? “That was exactly my thought,” responds Thornton. “But I know Molly Dent-Brocklehurst, who used to work for the Gagosian Galleries, always bids for him. It’s definitely another Russian oligarch. I’ve a few ideas who it is – I’ll find out his name eventually.”

Surveying the scene at the Hirst sale, Thornton notes: “This is not a busy, busy auction” – despite the fact that more than 700 people are packed into the room. She identifies many bidders, such as billionaire collectors and people from Larry Gagosian’s galleries and Jay Jopling’s White Cube – Hirst’s American and British dealers. The hands aren’t flying up; it feels a bit down, although it looks very good on paper now because it made £111m, well above its high estimate, she concludes later. [ . . . ] “But I’m just not getting chills down my spine. There isn’t the electricity or the frenzied feeding quality of so many sales I’ve attended. I’d expected many more mini dramas. But it’s always hard to read a sale on the night. I need to go away and digest it. Even so, I’d say the art market is definitely still booming.”

After spending five years on the book, she’s still fascinated by the art world. [ . . . ]“I’m still unravelling those paradoxes, especially after the Hirst sale. Now I want to see a major retrospective of his work – give us the classics!”

Sarah Thornton–Swimming in Shark Infested Waters (Scotsman)