by Matthew Israel. Thames & Hudson, September 2020. 256 p. ill. ISBN 9780500239926 (h/c), $29.95.

Reviewed September 2020
Heather Saunders, Director of, Ingalls Library, The Cleveland Museum of Art, hsaunders@clevelandart.org

israelMatthew Israel’s A Year in the Art World: An Insider’s View explores facets of the gem that is contemporary art. The subtitle is upfront about potential bias, referencing Israel’s often-direct connection to subject matter by virtue of his varied employment experience. As an insider, he has access to exclusive interviews, from which he quotes generously.

Like Sarah Thornton in Seven Days in the Art World (W. M. Norton, 2009), Israel is an academic flitting between far-flung settings, from art school to art auction. This tendency reflects the jet-setting of renowned figures like Marta Gynp, the Berlin-based art advisor Israel profiles, who is “permanently travelling” in a globalized art world.

A recent Kirkus review interprets Israel's text as Art World 101, less “zesty” than Thornton’s work, a seemingly harsh assessment given the appropriateness of his treatment. Israel intends to fill information gaps he once experienced as a recent graduate. He captures a high level of detail, like hidden costs of art fairs to gallerists. One element that may read as textbook-like to novices is Israel’s quotation of experts distilling categories like “collector” and “foundation” into subcategories. For jaded readers, such subcategories reframe their existing knowledge. Building on collectively recorded knowledge is also valuable: over a decade has passed since Thornton’s take on the art world was published, so Israel’s unaffiliated update is prudent in including content like 3D printing and Instagram. As to zest, it would be futile to compete with someone who has been called their country’s hippest academic (read: Thornton). Incidentally, Israel peppers his text with intriguing anecdotes about artists, such as Jeff Koons cold-calling Salvador Dalí at a hotel and the evolution of literal nightmares of the executor of Peter Hujar’s estate.

Israel achieves his goal, stated in the introduction, of writing accessibly to explain a somewhat elitist industry. Succinct opening sentences such as, “Artists do many things with their time” and “Art fairs function as the trade fairs of the art world” guide the reader seamlessly to complex content. His writing may seem simplistic initially, but polish is evident in the proper—yet often misused, even in academia—use of words like “hark” (vs. harken) and “home” (vs. hone). The only elitism that creeps in is interviewees’ de-contextualized name-dropping. In contrast, when Israel mentions lesser-known people, he provides context.

This monograph containing notes, an index, and color images, is recommended highly for public libraries, museum libraries, and academic libraries supporting studio and art history programs of all levels.

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