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Get the Picture: Bianca Bosker’s Best-Selling “Art World” Exposé

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As a follow-up to her successful book chronicling the wine high life (Cork Dork, 2017) writer Bianca Bosker chose fine art, capital A as the subject. Get the Picture (February 2024 Viking) is the result. Long vexed by the contemporary art world after loving art wholeheartedly as a child, Bosker decided to embed herself in the New York City scene to learn directly from those in the know, working as a gallery assistant, museum guard, artist studio assistant, and more. Five years later, she delivers a good-humored high-wire act of a book that informs and entertains based on her experiences.

As a longtime artist, student, editor, and educator, I was interested in learning Bosker’s angle. The title and cover make her book sound like a potential update of Tom Wolfe’s reactionary The Painted Word (1975) and, at a recent bookstore interview, Bosker was flattered when compared to Wolfe by a fan. She says that she studied the ‘new journalists’ when in school and mentioned the influence of infamous gonzo writer Hunter S. Thomson. It shows. Bosker is the main character in her stories and uses roller coaster language to provide a buzzy ride. The author’s writer persona is an unstoppable curious adventurer who employs a river of well-crafted wisecracks mixed with serious informative realizations. 

It’s evident that Bosker did her homework. She sprinkles the results liberally throughout the book with astonishing brevity (her extensive research is listed in the bibliography). Through it, she digs into arts past, science, and relevant ever-changing philosophy (well, mostly Western philosophy). She considers everything from ancient cave art to the latest in social media. She lingers over Duchamp’s influence, the 20th-century fork in the road that brings us to the current conundrums (all art 101 stuff). Bosker eventually arrives at the wowzah magic of it all and bring us along for the ride.

 

At the start, the New York gallery scene rejects the author’s overtures and blocks her from journalistic access. It’s understandable. Who wants a jazzed-up nosey journalist around? Especially one who may be primed to make a name for herself by doing a hit job. Bosker has a published track record to prove the risk is real.

Many collectors and gallery directors told her, off the record, how ugly, corrupt, messy, weird, opaque, and competitive the art world is—then clammed up. Some even threatened to ruin her reputation if she proceeded. This just piques Bosker’s journalistic instincts further and the author’s tenacity, as well as a childhood recollection of loving art, propels her forward.

Bosker lands an unpaid gallery assistant gig at a very small but respected art gallery (then in Brooklyn) run by Jack Barrett, who, like many, operates by juggling credit cards. Barrett loves to dole out icky opinionated advice (much of it later turns out to be somewhat correct… Sigh). Over a few chapters, the reader suffers with Bosker as she endures what sounds like a rotten co-dependent relationship while she helps Barrett build and paint walls, visit studios, and talk about art. It’s a relief when she ends it.

Bosker lampoons Barrett throughout the ordeal and her meanness could be a turn-off but instead, when snide or revealing of others, she makes fun of herself too, a move that levels the playing field. She doles out what she learns along the way, some good, some awful. Context is everything, she learns. Who decides what that is, well that’s key. 

 

Latent Rhythm featuring Taha Heydari, Yein Lee, Yanjun Li, Erik Nilson at Jack Barrett gallery, NY, photo gallery website
Mandy allFIRE Instagram
Context is everything, she learns. Who decides what that is, well that’s key.
Jack Livingston

The author begins to see things differently through experiences with a variety of artists. She discovers most are overworked obsessive seekers who toil in the face of adversity. In what is destined to become the most cited salacious part of the book she has a run-in with an “ass influencer.”

Mandy allFIRE (@thuglifethickbaby), a very serious butt artist, sits on Bosker’s face (with her consent) for a long ass time in a public performance. Wow. Tom Wolfe never did anything like that. I expected this cringey moment would be used by the author to ridicule performance art.

Instead, in a wily plot twist, Bosker is transformed by the experience. She can’t let it go, even when others are dismissive. The author now gets how “art actions” and concepts beyond objects and the market have significant meaning. She befriends allFIRE,and discovers  they are on similar missions— both  trying to understand a world beyond themselves through personal risk and immersion.

 

At Untitled Art Fair with Denny Dimin gallery, with works by Erin O’Keefe, from Bosker's IG account

In a spot-on frenetic laugh-out-loud section, Bosker heads to Miami Art Week’s Untitled Art Fair, just down the road from Art Basel, as a new assistant for Denny Dimin Gallery. The hot young space run by a mismatched exuberant pair is exhibiting photography by Erin O’Keefe that look like bright-hued abstract paintings.

Bosker’s escapades in Miami offer a superb overview of the monied craziness, parties, and also the financial risk a gallery takes on in order to participate. Surrounded by gleeful sales amid open consumption of drugs, drugs, drugs and ultra-rich players, the money pours in for the gallery. Even the author finally makes a big sale as she tests out, and then perfects, a sales technique that works for her, a proud moment. 

Bosker moves on to a stint as a dedicated studio assistant working for rising star, artist Julie Curtiss, a contemporary surrealist-tinged painter from France. Helping Curtiss, Bosker bumbles through the realities of a studio-based artist practice. She deals with floor painting, blister-inducing canvas stretching, and the long process of constant art creation, revisions, and remaking. Curtiss has infectious zeal. She sees everything anew and becomes a visionary guide for the author.

 

Julie Curtiss, website

Next, the author becomes a guard at the Guggenheim Museum where she is forced to spend lengthy days on her feet, contemplating the same works. At first awful, the job then blossoms into the most enlightening experience of all for Bosker. She has many big moments with a variety of artworks.

In a further breakthrough, she realizes museum wall text and work titles ruin the art experience. The average time we give a single artwork in an exhibition is often a matter of seconds, but Bosker now suggests we slow down, see less, and take in more. She urges readers to do so without big explanations and to trust one’s own encounters.

In a later adventure, she meets up with a refreshing art couple, two queer forty-something professionals named Rob and Eric. They are from North Dakota and go by the collective pithy punned-up name The Icy Gays. Through them Bosker reveals an updated alternative world of art acquisition as personal identity outside the tastemakers and gazillionaires.

As the COVID lockdown descends, the writer quits it all but the lessons stick. She now sees new aesthetic beauty everywhere including in the everyday, as artist Julie Curtiss revealed to her. Museums are treasured not perplexing. Performance art is understood as nuanced, not elitist. She even decides to try out painting for fun, using gouache no less! 

Bosker’s journey to art enlightenment is a big arc but is not without problems. She remains Manhattan-focused throughout, ignoring most other major cities in the US and around the world. The truth is that ALL cities have differing and varying versions of an accessible art world, but it is divorced from the big-monied Manhattan art cartel. My other critique is that diversity, the most important art world correction in our lifetime, and the deliberate inclusion of women, artists of color, and LGBTQI artists, isn’t really addressed. I understand that the author needed limitations, or this book might have taken a lifetime, and perhaps focusing almost exclusively on white subjects does in fact support her thesis around a lack of accessibility in the art world. Regardless, the book was an instant New York Times bestseller and is building the author’s brand further (so art-world-like!).

Get The Picture is an enjoyable, enlightening read. Bosker handily succeeded in making the “art world” accessible to average folks starting with herself and the reader. Perhaps more than any other, this book forces the reader to see the art world, artists, and their own ability to participate and benefit from it, from a whole new perspective, one that was hard earned through transformative experiences.

 

Get The Picture, via the Author’s IG

Header image from the author's IG and artist / gallery websites

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