Sarah Thornton, a contributor to The New Yorker, spent Seven Days In The Art World (W.W. Norton, $24.95), attending an auction at Christie’s, touring an art fair in Basel, and observing the Artforum International Manhattan offices, among other things. On her tour she discovers that all the players in today’s art world are afflicted with status anxiety, but they’re also heavily laden with cash. In 2007 Christie’s sold 793 works of art for over $1 million each. More people than ever are buying contemporary art, the future value of which is highly in doubt. One gallerist reflects that, “The newness of now, which is quite obsessive, is actually a reflection of the consumerism that you see in the whole culture.” Another suggests that “the boundary between art and entertainment is slowly vanishing. In backstage politicking dealers anxiously wait for not the best price, but the most prestigious buyer.”
Spanning the worlds of art, music, sports, cinema, business, and politics, Vanity Fair: The Portraits (Abrams, $65), is an elegant new volume from Grayson Carter and the editors of Vanity Fair. The photographers here are the finest: Annie Leibovitz, Edward Steichen, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Cecil Beaton, and together the 300 images reproduced showcase the best from the last 95 years of Vanity Fair. This gallery of portraits represents a rich cultural history, one in which it is hard to say whether Vanity Fair was creating the famous, or whether the culture of fame was creating Vanity Fair. For bibliophiles there are stunning images of such literary lions as James Joyce, William Butler Yeats, and Toni Morrison.
Our relationship with the environmental activist Terry Tempest Williams dates back to her reading from Refuge, a lyrical essay about the deaths of her mother and grandmother, the radiation emitted from nuclear testing in Nevada, and shattered eggs in bird sanctuaries. Terry continues to practice her unique and beautiful skill of connecting disparate things, and with Finding Beauty In A Broken World (Pantheon, $26), she makes associations between her apprenticeship in a mosaic workshop in Ravenna, Italy; the ecosystem of the grasslands and Colorado plateau, in which she discovers metaphorical and ecological mosaics, along with the threatened extinction of prairie dogs; and Rwanda, where she works with a Chinese-American artist to make a Tree of Life memorial mosaic on the one wall left standing in a village destroyed in 1993. For Williams the mosaic images, fashioned from shards of shattered glass, resurrect beauty from brokenness.