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.”
Dark Water (Doubleday, $26) is a must for travelers (armchair or actual) to Florence. Robert Clark spent two glorious years, 2005-06 in Florence. His story is bookended by the great flood of 1966, but it is really a love letter to that graceful city of the Renaissance that has bestowed its affections on so many visitors. The fascinating and little-known history of Florence during World War II also constitutes a large section of the book.