The $12 Million Stuffed Shark
Why would a smart New York investment banker pay $12 million for the decaying, stuffed carcass of a shark? By what alchemy does Jackson Pollock’s drip painting No. 5, 1948 sell for $140 million?            Intriguing and entertaining, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark is a Freakonomics approach to the economics and psychology of the contemporary art world. Why were record prices achieved at auction for works by 131 contemporary artists in 2006 alone, with astonishing new heights reached in 2007? Don Thompson explores the money, lust, and self-aggrandizement of the art world in an attempt to determine what makes a particular work valuable while others are ignored.            This book is the first to look at the economics and the marketing strategies that enable the modern art market to generate such astronomical prices. Drawing on  interviews with both past and present executives of auction houses and art dealerships, artists, and the buyers who move the market, Thompson launches the reader on a journey of discovery through the peculiar world of modern art. Surprising, passionate, gossipy, revelatory, The $12 Million Stuffed Shark reveals a great deal that even experienced  auction purchasers do not know.

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark Details

TitleThe $12 Million Stuffed Shark
Author
LanguageEnglish
ReleaseSep 16th, 2008
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan
ISBN-139780230610224
Rating
GenreArt, Nonfiction, Economics, Art History, Business

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark Review

  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    Only yesterday, Tracey Emin's installation "My Bed" was sold at auction for £2.5 million. Saatchi Gallery.This book explains such phenomena. It was written for people who read about multi-million dollar prices for contemporary artworks and wonder how such eye-watering figures are reached. Most of the art discussed in the book is conceptual, but then a lot of contemporary art is conceptual. It looks at artists like On Kawara, whose pictures of dates - literally pictures of dates - sell for up to Only yesterday, Tracey Emin's installation "My Bed" was sold at auction for £2.5 million. Saatchi Gallery.This book explains such phenomena. It was written for people who read about multi-million dollar prices for contemporary artworks and wonder how such eye-watering figures are reached. Most of the art discussed in the book is conceptual, but then a lot of contemporary art is conceptual. It looks at artists like On Kawara, whose pictures of dates - literally pictures of dates - sell for up to £300,000 each. Yvon Lambert website.Or Felix Gonzales-Torres, whose sculpture "(Untitled) Lover Boys" made of 355 lbs of individual wrapped blue and white candies, sold for $456,000. Andrea Rosen Gallery.Gonzales-Torres also did another sculpture of a pile of 10,000 fortune cookies. This did not reach its reserve price at auction, but the bidding went up to $520,000. In both instances of course there were ideas behind these works. They weren't just cookies or just sweeties. But for some of us the accusation that the emperor is not wearing any clothes cannot help but float to mind.The author is an economist who has taught marketing at both Harvard Business School and the London School of Economics. He obviously enjoys contemporary art, both as a collector and an observer, and he casts a wide net. He looks at artists, dealers, auction houses and art fairs, and he follows the funnel that sucks in newbie artists at the top, and pops the lucky ones, (the very lucky ones), out at the bottom, as huge iconic branded figures like Damian Hirst, Jeff Koons, Andreas Gursky or David Hockney. We follow the artists' journey - which is mostly one of patronage, from when they leave art school to when they reach the big time, and each step of the way is analysed.Points of interest I noted from the book....1) I realised how woefully ignorant I was when it comes to contemporary art. The book mentioned many successful artists with whom I was unfamiliar, and it was good to google their work, and get an idea of what they were doing. (view spoiler)[ Richard SerraOn KawaraDonald JuddJim HodgesPeter DoigJean-Michael BasquiatJasper JohnsTom FriedmanRachel WhitreadCy TwomblyAndrea RosenJane and Dinos ChapmanEllsworth KellyJohn CurrinBill ViolaWim WendersJohn BaldessariRichard PrinceDavid HammonsTony SmithWolfgang TillmansGillian WearingJohn StezakerGary WebbDavid ShrigleyTakashi MurakamiRobert RauschenbergChuck Close Jeff WallMatthew BarneyLuc TuymansLisa YuskavageClifford RossChristopher WoolJanine AntoniniFranz AckermannPeter HalleyYves KleinMartin KippenbergerEd RuschaDonald JuddPeter Fischli and David WeissAntoni TapiesMaurizio CattelanRichard DiebenkornMatt CollishawGary HumeMichael LandyFiona Rae. (hide spoiler)]2) It really alerted me to the power of branding, of making oneself into a megga celebrity whose casual signature - let alone artworks - would be treasured for posterity. (view spoiler)[ February 2016: Picasso's paint-smeared palette has just sold for £45,000 ($65364). (hide spoiler)]3) It gave me a taste of how the super rich wheel and deal. I'm a pore pore woman from sleepy middle England, and I found this eye-opening stuff. These multi-millionaires can be surprisingly insecure though, often relying on the taste of their dealers to tell them what they need to buy. Sometimes they even buy blind, without actually seeing the artwork.4) Snobbery and status. This would seem to be the underlying impulse for a lot of people buying expensive art. To be seen to have a Damian Hirst on one's wall is big time kudos. Think of owning a Gucci handbag, but bigger, brighter, bolder and sexier.I have done little to describe the full compass of this book - it really is wonderfully researched and detailed, whilst still being hugely fun and readable. Its ultimate message ? Buy the art you like, and enjoy it. The likelihood of it being a good investment is small. The author says that eight out of ten works purchased directly from an artist, and half the works purchased at auction, will never again re-sell at their purchase price. Even Charles Saatchi falls over on a regular basis. So just go for things that give you pleasure.Absolutely fascinating and highly recommended.----------------------------------In tandem with reading this book, I listened again to Grayson Perry's fantastic series of Reith Lectures on contemporary art. If Thompson explains the backstage mechanics of today's art market, then Perry explains the heart, creativity and excitement of modern art and artists. Both compliment one another beautifully. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtehJ3...And here is a write up I have just found concerning the video "What Makes Art Valuable", by the journalist Alastair Sooke. It shines a light on another odd quirk in this bizarre world."One of the more intriguing phenomena touched on in the film is the concept of provenance, which is the added value a piece of art has above and beyond what it otherwise would be worth due to the prestige and/or wealth of its previous owners. A painting previously owned by David Rockefeller.......can and does fetch considerably more than a comparable piece without the same ownership track record."
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  • Meredith Holley
    January 1, 1970
    The art business seems to me like this weird cross-section of fashion and property. I read this book for a class that I loved with this really great professor who has the quietest, most monotone voice of any professor I’ve had. It was a lovely class, though. I played Bejeweled 3 through most of the class sessions so that I wouldn’t space off from what the professor was saying, and it worked. He is one of those professors who has been doing this for so long that it seems almost boring to him, exc The art business seems to me like this weird cross-section of fashion and property. I read this book for a class that I loved with this really great professor who has the quietest, most monotone voice of any professor I’ve had. It was a lovely class, though. I played Bejeweled 3 through most of the class sessions so that I wouldn’t space off from what the professor was saying, and it worked. He is one of those professors who has been doing this for so long that it seems almost boring to him, except you can tell he loves it so much. He’s great. Anyway, I’m not in love with this book, but it does give a helpful overview of the art business, if that's something that interests you.It makes me kind of sad to discuss art in this way, I guess, because, despite whatever the harsh reality is, I do still think of it as sacred or religious in some way. Thompson talks a lot about Damien Hirst (as you can tell from the title) and other branded artists. The art business sucks because, as with a lot of other creative ways to make money (I’d think), the actual artists aren’t really the ones making money. For example, say an artist makes a painting (or a pile of gumdrops, or whatever we’re calling art at the time), and sells it on this cool website, artquest.com, that the book talks a little about. So, that artist sells the painting, or pile of gumdrops, for, like $1,000, which is a pretty good price, I’d think, if you’re making money from something you love. Then, it turns out that the pile of gumdrops is total genius and changes the way artist work for all eternity, so the dude who bought it for $1,000 now sells it for $12 million. According to this book, that’s pretty typical in the art business. So, the people who know what art to buy are the one’s making the money, not the artists.In Europe, they’ve tried to counteract this somewhat by making it law that every time art gets sold, the artist gets a cut. That’s nice, except it really only benefits artists who are already famous. Also, the cut the artist gets isn’t very much money. It’s not often that art changes hands frequently, especially if the artist is not branded, so the law really only increases the wealth (very slightly) of older artists. As a rule, it doesn’t help younger ones. It’s pretty rare that art sells for millions of dollars, and it seems like the high prices have more to do with marketing than with the value the art community places on the work. The parallels to literature are not lost on me. Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living is what I would imagine to be a sort of A Million Little Pieces of art.It’s not uncool. It’s definitely cool. But its coolness lies more in its shock value than its technique. I probably shouldn’t talk, being one of the only people in the universe to have not read A Million Little Pieces when Oprah said to, or when she said not to. I don’t hear the book discussed for its writing, though, I hear it discussed for its content. The shark is similar, I think. It is, as they say, conceptual. Anyway, both artists made a shit-ton of money for their concepts where artists relying on technique can fail in the business of it all.I guess the lesson here is that you get money if you understand money, not necessarily if you do things that are socially valuable. It’s kind of cynical, but probably true.
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  • Mikey B.
    January 1, 1970
    This is a marvelous book – like “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex Art but Were Afraid to Ask”. I love looking at art; can’t afford any of it – except at a flea market. The whole spectacle of the current art world is all here – it’s lavish, sordid, secretive, pretentious... Its’ about the lust of collecting and the thirst for status.The more the work is “branded” the more its’ craved. “Branded” is at several levels:- a “name” artist- exhibited by a “name” museum- a “name” collector This is a marvelous book – like “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex Art but Were Afraid to Ask”. I love looking at art; can’t afford any of it – except at a flea market. The whole spectacle of the current art world is all here – it’s lavish, sordid, secretive, pretentious... Its’ about the lust of collecting and the thirst for status.The more the work is “branded” the more its’ craved. “Branded” is at several levels:- a “name” artist- exhibited by a “name” museum- a “name” collector (always somebody very wealthy)- exhibited at a “name” gallery (usually in New York or London)- bought at a “name” auction (usually an evening auction of Sotheby or Christie).If the painting has some of the above its’ a “work of art” that the rich, and possible famous, will want to hang in their villas, luxury apartments... to impress.But art critics have no sway in the art world. This book is packed with wonderful observations. Here’s another :From page 143 (my book)“why, [5 to 10 minutes towards] the end of any evening auction, are there a group of women[trophy wives?] in the first few rows who, ... unrelated to the quality of work remaining, stand up and slowly depart..., husbands in tow. Perhaps their departure, like their arrival, is intended to make sure the crowd knows they were present [look at me]...The author takes us through the different environs.Many galleries do not last – there are very few status galleries. Many artists do not last. In general art is not good investment. Unlike general media news, art news is about good news - of paintings that have sold well; we never hear (and the art world does not want us to hear) about paintings that don’t sell, that the price has diminished...If one wants to buy a major painting at a major gallery – you have to be a known collector; otherwise you will be put on a “waiting list”, you will be asked for financial credentials – i.e. a casual (or not so casual) brush-off. Nobody wants to sell a “branded painting” to a “non-branded purchaser” – for one thing it will bring down the value of the art work.Page 115“Every day clerks at Christie’s and Sotheby’s clip obituary pages and forward the clippings to the appropriate directors. After the death of a major collector, both auction and dealer representatives offer condolences and assistance to the estate. One former auction house specialist tells of taking a call concerning a death late in the evening and flying overnight to call on the heirs at noon the next day. He found a representative of the other auction house sitting in the reception room.”The buying and selling at galleries, auction houses and art fairs is hardly transparent. It’s not like buying at Sears or Wal-Mart. A major art fair will have a private viewing for its’ preferred customers before the normal folks can attend.This book is very readable with hilarious art world anecdotes. We are provided with an inner sanctum view. I loved the quotes at the beginning of every chapter.Over six years have passed since this book was written. The author stated that with the new millennium the growth and preponderance of art fairs was escalating – as opposed to the decline of art galleries. I don’t know how much has changed since.A companion book to this is To Have and to Hold.And to end off, some of the stuff people buy is mind-boggling! Would you pay $72.8 million for this?!White Center by Mark RothkoHere is a quote from Andy WarholFrom page 184:“Say you were going to buy a $200,000 painting, I think you should take that money, tie it up, and hang it on the wall. Then when someone visited you, the first thing they would see is the money on the wall.”
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  • Mike
    January 1, 1970
    Disclaimer, cause I might as well just get it out of the way: If contemporary art makes your blood boil, your hopes for western civilization sputter, or gag reflex engage, this is not the book for you. If you’re in this group, it might be better to just go on your merry way and pretend you never heard of Chris Ofili or Damien Hirsch or Tracy Emin or Charles Saatchi.None of which is to say that you have to like contemporary art to read this book. Thompson isn’t particularly interested in getting Disclaimer, cause I might as well just get it out of the way: If contemporary art makes your blood boil, your hopes for western civilization sputter, or gag reflex engage, this is not the book for you. If you’re in this group, it might be better to just go on your merry way and pretend you never heard of Chris Ofili or Damien Hirsch or Tracy Emin or Charles Saatchi.None of which is to say that you have to like contemporary art to read this book. Thompson isn’t particularly interested in getting your dander up with an endless list of shock art (though he does describe some shocking works, some so because they’re tasteless, some because they’re, well, shocking). He’s not interested in the what of contemporary art—he’s interested in the how of the contemporary art market, and he even dabbles in the why. While the book didn’t offer any answers about the importance or meaning of any particular piece of art (and I was kinda hoping it would), it is an enjoyable, informative, often eyebrow raising tour of the high-end market for contemporary art. For my part, the book caught my eye because of the titular shark, which I saw while it was on display at the Met. I’ve always liked sharks and enjoyed being able to examine one up close, but it says something that I’d never bothered thinking about its meaning (it’s a symbol that unifies the ideas of life and death and challenges a gallery-goer’s disinclination to honesty consider mortality… or something like that) until I read the present book. I followed up on the book because I was curious. I wouldn’t go so far as to say that I like contemporary art, but I was willing to give it a shot. It helped that Thompson is a fan of contemporary art (and so wouldn’t spend 200 pages bashing it) that and has a background in economics, a decidedly non-artsy field (if you’ve ever read art history books or Sotheby’s catalogues you’ll realize that the writing is mostly about keeping idiots who have to ask why a canvas painted uniformly blue has a different price than a canvas painted uniformly white (ie, me) out of the debate).I wanted someone who’d talk about CA in a sane, reasonable way, and while Thompson isn’t completely devoid of reactions to the works, any deviations from his usually unbiased tone work in his favor (you can practically hear hear his tendons strain as he discusses On Kawara’s day paintings: “Consider the attraction of a work by Japanese conceptual artist On Kawara, whose Today series involves painting a date on canvas… the work Nov. 8, 1989 (just those letters and numerals, in block white against a black background)… sold for £310,000… There is no rarity factor… there are more than two thousand Kawara day paintings in existence… One dealer told me that so long as collectors will pay high auction prices for Kawara’s day paintings, there is hope for everyone.” (14). (Whether the dealer means there is hope for dealers or artists is unclear; there are plenty of instances in which Thompson lets his enthusiasm for, uh, nontraditional works shine through; Rothko’s White center (Yellow, Pink and Lavendar on Rose) is “spectacular” 21).Thompson isn’t trying to explain anything about art; he’s just trying to sketch a picture of how the market works. Along the way he touches on some pretty serious issues involving art (consider, for one, that while most collectors are super rich and are perhaps blowing so much money on weird shit because they’ve got money to burn, some museums are publicly funded, a situation that is rife with conflicts of interest when artists and dealers are all still living and perfectly willing and able to game the system). And Thompson succeeds, reporting some amazing facts, interesting observations, and stimulating arguments along the way:1) Having bought Van Gogh’s Portrait of Dr. Gachet, Japanese collector Ryoei Saito wanted it to be cremated with his body.2) Fans of Traditional Art Have Only Themselves to Blame for the Rise of Contemporary ArtThink of it this way: there are a limited number of paintings and sculptures by da Vinci, Michelangelo, JMW Turner, and all the rest, and most of them have been bought up by museums. And even of the famous works, how many can you name from each artist? One? Two? Five? Even if you can name ten from each artist, there are well more than ten museums in the world, and who’s gonna want the Michelangelo’s eleventh most well known painting, assuming it is available and assuming a museum could afford it?The reality is that every museum needs an anchor for its collection, a piece that people will come to see whenever they’re in New York or LA or Berlin or Dubai. But as the supply of old art is fixed, and as the Louvre ain’t selling the Mona Lisa any time soon, all those museums are stuck. Contemporary art can fill the gap.3) Supply and Demand Explain the Market, Except When They Don’tThe supply of Old Masters is practically nonexistent, which explains why a museum is willing to look to other periods. But supply and demand go out the window with contemporary art. If an artist is hot, representation in multiple galleries helps build buzz. Greater supply feeds greater demand and higher prices; it helps stimulate the herd mentality.4) There’s a Good Reason Why Collectors and Dealers Look for Outrageous ArtThompson uses the genius example of a BlackBerry to explain the appeal of “disruptive products.” The markets for computers and cell phones were relatively stable. Rather than compete with established players in either, Research in Motion introduced a new product that created a new sector that it could dominate because it was the first player in that market.The same thing goes on in art. Everything is stable, and smaller dealers and new artists find space in the sun by inventing new segments of the art world and upsetting the apple cart.4) If That Makes the Art World Sound a Little Business-y, Or Even Corporate, That’s Because It Is and Always Has Been. Kinda.It’s no coincidence that Charles Saatchi, one of the world’s most recognized art dealers, built his fortune in advertising. He’s a master at branding himself and his artists, in addition to exploiting the brands of auction houses like Sotheby’s.His reputation helps him because so many art collectors, the kind of people who spend so much of their time making insane amounts of money that they can afford to drop $12 mill on a poorly taxidermied shark, don’t have the time to become experts on contemporary art. That’s not to say that one can’t become such an expert, or that these folks couldn’t become such experts if they had the time too—merely that they have so much money they are willing to pay dealers like Saatchi a premium so that they don’t need to spend precious time examining what they are buying. (if that sounds absurd to you, think whether you’ve ever spent $6 on a birthday card from a cute, trendy bookshop, or $3 on a drip coffee from Starbucks). And the role of the art dealer has been around for awhile. Gauguin dealt art (and stocks) until the the market crash of 1882 dried up the market for both and he had to go back to painting to make money (!).Saatchi is a branded dealer, but a few artists managed to brand themselves as well. You can be reasonably sure that Jeff Koons or Damien Hirsch could sell a work sight unseen just on the strength of their name—people think the works will accrue value.Some museums are getting in on the branding and marketing trend; the Guggenheim has lent its name and some of its artwork to other Guggenheims, chiefly the Frank Gehry monsterwork in Bilbao, Spain. Thompson leaves it to us to decide is having a museum function like a business is a good thing. I have the gut feeling it isn’t, and I think Thompson might agree with me. There are too many conflicts of interest.But if dealing an art can be a great business, collecting art sure isn’t. One of the most eye-opening sections of the book is on art as investment. In the 80s the Dutch government supported Dutch artists by buying their artwork at three times the rate that the private sector paid for it. No one seems to remember the names of any Dutch artists from the 80s, and when the government resold the paintings they took an 80% loss (which means that for every 100 they spent they got 20 cents back. A private buyer would have spent 33 cents on the same work and gotten 20 cents back—not exactly good, but not quite as bad). Nevertheless, some intrepid mutual fund managers have created art-based mutual funds, and the returns always trail those of the market at large (perhaps because the market for high end art is made up of people who make their money off the stock market to begin with). Even some of the most eye-popping numbers (so and so bought the piece in 1950 for $40,000… now it is $50 million!) don’t represent good appreciation rates—and that is for the one-in-a-million piece that is an absolute masterwork fifty years after the initial investment. 5) There’s a Dodgy Side to Art DealingA dealer named Ely Sakhai attempted to pass of a forged copy of Gauguin’s Vase des Fleurs to a Japanese collector even as he tried to sell the original through Christie’s; he was caught when the Japanese buyer tried to flip the Gauguin through Sotheby’s at the same time. A Montreal art “expert” named Biro made something of a specialty of finding artist’s fingerprints on pieces whose authenticity was doubtful. It turns out that he may have been forging his “proof” that the works weren’t themselves forgeries.Those are the most extreme examples, and obviously no one in the art world openly condones them. There are, however, a great many activities in the art world that wouldn’t pass muster anywhere else. Say a museum decides to do a mid career retrospective. The directors can go out to art dealers and get discounts for passing on this inside knowledge; the dealers can pass it on to their clientele. It’d be insider trading anywhere else, but in the art world it’s okay.5) The Auction House is an Amazing PlaceThompson is at his best talking about Christie’s and Sotheby’s. They pester and henpeck collectors with notable works until they’re dead, then they send representatives to the funeral. They guarantee returns from auction, and offer to send consigned artwork around the world to drum up interest, sometimes with the consignors’ children along for the ride. Then they churn up prestige, advertising, vanity, greed, and entitlement to sell the art at the highest price. Picking almost at random, he explains how auctioneers exploit the bidders’ weaknesses. One phenomenon is the endowment effect—if you bid, you start to feel like you own the work—and it becomes more valuable to you. Another is the simple fact that many people want to own the most expensive piece of art in the world. All you need to do is be willing to outbid the others. And if someone else outdoes you by paying more at another auction, all you need to do is wait a few months and pay through the nose for something else. Couples exhibit some of the most interesting behavior when bidding. The man bids, but must ask the wife’s permission, most often by body language. One auctioneer holds that it is because bidding is a “pseudo-orgasmic experience” (124).Weirdly, auction houses have been immune to charges against their good taste: “traditional auction humor holds that the lots are carried in by the only black person in the room. In London they are carried in by the only impoverished person.” (119).Auctioneers report that there are also rules for what makes art more valuable at auction: Attractive woman or child > older woman, unattractive man Red>white>blue>yellow>green>black (Warhol is the exception) Bright>pale Horizontal>vertical Nudity>modesty (female nudes>male nudes) Figurative>landscape Flowers>fruit Roses>chrysanthemums Calm water>rough water Shipwrecks are the worst Pureblood dogs>mongrels Racehorses>cart horses If it features a game bird, birds that are expensive to hunt do better. Cows never sell. (unless you’re Damien Hirsch and you cut one in half)So a nude, bright red woman with a child holding roses in calm water with a pure bred dog looks good. Check.6) Christie’s and Sotheby’s Effects on the Market EcologyAuction houses are getting so good at what they do, and there are so many chances to make money off of third party guarantees,* that they are taking up most of the market. They’re even encroaching on the primary art market by selling the artist’s works directly in some cases. Some dealers worry that they will be squeezed out, though this might not be a valid fear. Christie’s and Sotheby’s reputations rely partly on their reputation for taste—they only offer a certain number of lots per auction. If they got in on the primary art market they’d have so much to sell that other auction houses might have to handle the overflow, and if great artists went with other houses, it would destroy C and S’s competitive advantage, their brand. Also, dealers help establish baseline prices for the auction houses. They are a necessary layer for the auction houses.*third party guarantees are a way for the house to hedge its bets on what a painting will bring in. Effectively they offer a way for a third party to bid on a piece of art ahead of time (the downside is that the third party might is that it might pay more than it would have in the actual auction). The system works out great for the auction house, assuming it can get third parties to cover the guarantees it gives out to the people who consign the work to be auctioned in the first place.7) Museums are Part of the Branding Circle TooMusuems hold way more art than they can show, but they can’t often sell it. If they do the public sees it as a loss or as a sign of bad financial management, and then there are internal political cans-of-worms as well: if you sold a Renoir to buy, say a dismembered cow preserved in formaldehyde, the curators of late 19th century French art would, to say nothing of the public, be upset.So say someone consigns a painting to a museum, no strings attached. Rather than putting it in storage, the museum can flip it at auction. The donor is happy because the value of the charitable donation went up (she can write off the value of the painting plus the auction house’s fee), the value of any other works in her collection may go up as a result of the sale now that her brand has been crossed with that of the museum and that of the auction house. The auction house gets to sell something from a name brand museum. The museum gets money to buy other art to fill in the gaps. As Thompson puts it: “If everybody gains, what is the harm? I will leave that question to the reader.” (229)8) If That Sounds Like the Makings of a Bubble to You, You’re Not the Only One to Think SoThompson’s described at least two “Everyone wins cause values keep going up!” situations (third party guarantees and museum’s flipping art donations based on their name). He reports that dealers avoid using the word crash, almost as if they were superstitious (they also prefer the term “extended boom” to “bubble.” To-mA-to, to-MAH-to), but it does seem to be the unspoken concern. Thompson himself thinks there are so many nouveau riche around the world lusting for contemporary art produced in the west that the bubble won’t burst.I wonder if people were writing similar things before the art-market crash of ’90, which began when Japanese buyers stopped buying, and which spread to the rest of the market. It seems foolish to think that this time around will be any different. At some point enough works won’t get bids, and the whole thing will come tumbling down. Looks like I’ll find some other way to spend that $120 million I’ve got laying around.
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  • Ali
    January 1, 1970
    I can allocate only 3 stars to this book. At best.It's a curious book, somewhat informative, yet quite sketchy and superficial at most of the times.It's not art, not science, it's marketing that rules the world, and the world of art is no exception. Good marketing, smart publicity and an artist has a good chance of getting on top of the wave.All the inside, the "behind the closed doors" stuff.... well, i personally have little interest in it. i either like something or not... I do not care wheth I can allocate only 3 stars to this book. At best.It's a curious book, somewhat informative, yet quite sketchy and superficial at most of the times.It's not art, not science, it's marketing that rules the world, and the world of art is no exception. Good marketing, smart publicity and an artist has a good chance of getting on top of the wave.All the inside, the "behind the closed doors" stuff.... well, i personally have little interest in it. i either like something or not... I do not care whether it was good marketing, the right gallery, or just an incident... oh, well, on a rare occasion it might be even talent:))Nothing really new in this book. If you follow art news, then you are most likely have read/heard most of the things described. If you are not into it, the great revelations will have little or none impact on you.
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  • Lance Charnes
    January 1, 1970
    The most important aspect of the contemporary art market (roughly, art created since 1960 or so) is revealed in the penultimate chapter of The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. It's worth an extended quote, because it helps everything else make some weird kind of sense.The value of art often has more to do with artist, dealer, or auction-house branding, and with collector ego, than it does with art... the boom in trophy art prices reflects both the buoyancy of the financial markets and the concentratio The most important aspect of the contemporary art market (roughly, art created since 1960 or so) is revealed in the penultimate chapter of The $12 Million Stuffed Shark. It's worth an extended quote, because it helps everything else make some weird kind of sense.The value of art often has more to do with artist, dealer, or auction-house branding, and with collector ego, than it does with art... the boom in trophy art prices reflects both the buoyancy of the financial markets and the concentration of income that has occurred all around the world in the past twenty years. In the United Kingdom and the United States, the share of income held by the top 1 percent of the population has doubled since the start of the 1980s. In Italy and France... the income share of the top 1 percent has tripled. In Russia, China and India, the share may be fifty times higher... In 2007, Forbes magazine reported a record 946 billionaires...These are the people who spend $690,000 for a leather jacket tossed in a gallery corner, secured to the wall by a web of thin silver chains (1992, by Jim Hodges), or, yes, $12 million for a dead shark floating in a vat of formaldehyde (1991, by Damien Hirst). And that's why you keep asking yourself, "All that money... for that?"A particularly outre 2006 Royal Gallery of Art exhibition inspired Don Thompson, the author, to start his trip down the rabbit hole of the contemporary art market. Thompson isn't an art insider; he's a Canadian economist who has taught at the London School of Economics and the Harvard Business School. This accounts for both the book's subtitle and the care Thompson uses to define most of the artspeak shot through the narrative."Branding" is the critical term he uses to explain everything. There are branded artists (Warhol, Koons, Hirst, Basquiat, Bacon); branded museums (MoMA, the Guggenheim, both Tates, the Louvre); branded dealers (Gagosian, White Cube, David Zwirner, Marian Goodman); branded auction houses (Christie's, Sotheby's); and branded collectors (Saatchi, Pinault, Broad). When you put any two or three of these together, wallets (and brains) explode. Artists become branded by being represented by a branded dealer, or being bought by a branded collector. A branded collector can maximize his return by selling a branded artist's work through a branded auction house (at the evening auction, not the more plebian afternoon one), preferably to a branded museum or another branded collector. Prices keep going up (even if they don't -- nobody admits that) because the players in this game never run out of money. And so it goes.Keep in mind that none of this has anything to do with you or me. Thompson makes the point more than once: that pretty picture you buy in your Main Street gallery or from the artist's studio during the annual Art Walk will never sell for more than it does at the moment you buy it, no matter how long you hold onto it. Make sure it looks good on your wall.Despite being both an academic and an economist, Thompson writes clearly, often engagingly, and most important, understandably. He examines the underpinnings of each piece of this self-reinforcing money mill in turn, discussing not only how they work but also why, and how it all goes together. Outside of some artist name-dropping, you likely won't get lost even if your only exposure to contemporary art is Warhol's soup cans.Probably because he isn't an art insider and was discovering all this stuff while he was researching this book, Thompson includes an unusual (for these kind of books) amount of detail about the everyday workings of dealers, auctions, art fairs, and the like. We learn about chandelier bids, waiting lists, "buying with your ears," private treaty sales and "Very Ordinary People" (the other 99.9%), often while these concepts are in narrative play. Given what I write, I found this the most useful aspect of this book; you may too, especially if you've seen one too many art-auction scenes in movies and wondered if it really goes down that way.If you read my last art-book review, you may be asking, "Isn't this just a rehash of Big Bucks: The Explosion of the Art Market in the 21st Century?" Yes, they do cover a lot of the same territory. However, Georgina Adam came at the subject from an insider's perspective and wasn't nearly as interested in the nuts-and-bolts as she was about broad trends. Shark and Big Bucks are companion pieces, not duplicates.The other difference between the two books: Shark is almost ten years old, while Big Bucks is only three. Thompson's data ended just as the 2007-8 crash began. This renders most of his discussion about absolute prices (rather than trends) moot; nearly all the records he reports have been broken by now, and a few of the power players have changed. (Thompson visited the post-crash art world in 2014's The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art .) This, as well as a spotty index and not nearly enough pictures, shaved off enough of the fifth star to make me call it four stars and change.The $12 Million Stuffed Shark is an accessible, readable explanation of how the stratospheric end of the art market works. It's a better entry point than Adam's Big Bucks; you'll get more ground-level details along with the lurid bits, at the cost of looking at the world as it was a few years ago. By the end, you'll know why you should buy a contemporary female nude with lots of red, and why it doesn't matter whether you actually like (or understand) the piece you've spent your retirement fund on. You'll also learn that "more money than sense" isn't just a cliché.
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  • Mark
    January 1, 1970
    The middle 50% or so is way too in-depth about the auction process itself rather than the implications that auctions and the auction process have on the art world. Not to mention all the auction talk gets pretty repetitive. I also find it funny (kind of hard to knock the book on this, just wish it were revised or something) how much Thompson talks about the resilience of the market and compares it to stocks and mentions it only took slight hits from the 1990 recession and the dot com bubble but The middle 50% or so is way too in-depth about the auction process itself rather than the implications that auctions and the auction process have on the art world. Not to mention all the auction talk gets pretty repetitive. I also find it funny (kind of hard to knock the book on this, just wish it were revised or something) how much Thompson talks about the resilience of the market and compares it to stocks and mentions it only took slight hits from the 1990 recession and the dot com bubble but also later admits the contemporary art market has struggled to reach where it used to be... but then this was all researched and written between 2006 and 2007. So now I really want to know what the effects of the 2008 housing bubble on the art market ended up being, because my takeaway is that it was drastic. Did it affect sales? Museums? Auctions? Art fairs? Private sales? Did any of those markets collapse? Did the contemporary art world change because of the market crash? Or maybe it changed because of the ripple effect the housing bubble caused on the art market. Kind of leaves a lot up in there as a product of its time.
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  • Nour Oueidat
    January 1, 1970
    I've started reading this book with little information about contemporary art. I only know about the ridiculous installations that cost a fortune and Andy Warhol's easy-to-imitate silkscreens. This book was a great insight to everything you need to know about contemporary art, not just the economical aspect of it. It goes through major artists, major auction houses, major collectors, and major art installations. Although its a slow read, the information it exposes about the art world is interest I've started reading this book with little information about contemporary art. I only know about the ridiculous installations that cost a fortune and Andy Warhol's easy-to-imitate silkscreens. This book was a great insight to everything you need to know about contemporary art, not just the economical aspect of it. It goes through major artists, major auction houses, major collectors, and major art installations. Although its a slow read, the information it exposes about the art world is interesting and in some places surprising. It opens up the discussion to what constitutes as art, how can art be valued, and the inevitable reality of commercialized and mass produced art. Its sad when its put into perspective how the art world is basically a game for the rich. Billionaires buy and sell art like its stock. Non-the-less, we ordinary people can still go to museums (thank God for that) and enjoy art for free. Now with a better understanding of how the art world works, I can witness art being sold for extravagant amounts of money and be amused rather than shocked.
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  • Mark B.
    January 1, 1970
    I'm going to have to give this one a mixed-review. First of all, I was concerned by some of the mistakes that slipped past the book's editors (i.e. referring to Thomas Hoving as the former director of MOMA (instead of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and references to the Whitney Museum of Modern (rather than American) Art, etc.) Such errors throw up all sorts of red flags for me. I wonder what other oversights I missed for not being familiar enough with the topics to start with. That said, I mus I'm going to have to give this one a mixed-review. First of all, I was concerned by some of the mistakes that slipped past the book's editors (i.e. referring to Thomas Hoving as the former director of MOMA (instead of the Metropolitan Museum of Art) and references to the Whitney Museum of Modern (rather than American) Art, etc.) Such errors throw up all sorts of red flags for me. I wonder what other oversights I missed for not being familiar enough with the topics to start with. That said, I must admit that I did enjoy most of the book, especially the discussions of auction houses, the establishment of fair market values and the frank exploration of the existence and proliferation of art fairs in recent years. All in all, I would recommend this book for anyone whose professional life relies on, or exists in tandem with contemporary art. I do however caution you to double-check any of the facts yourself before relying on the book as a completely valid resource.
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  • Noah Goats
    January 1, 1970
    A lot of modern art seems like a scam to me. People pay huge sums for a Damien Hirst or an Andy Warhol, but, frankly, much of their art is boring, ugly, and insulting to both intelligence and common sense. Damien Hirst’s least ugly works, like his spot and spin paintings, could be done by anyone and, in fact, some are made by other people under his direction without Hirst adding anything but a signature. How is selling a Hirst painting of colorful spots for $300,000 (that Hirst didn’t even paint A lot of modern art seems like a scam to me. People pay huge sums for a Damien Hirst or an Andy Warhol, but, frankly, much of their art is boring, ugly, and insulting to both intelligence and common sense. Damien Hirst’s least ugly works, like his spot and spin paintings, could be done by anyone and, in fact, some are made by other people under his direction without Hirst adding anything but a signature. How is selling a Hirst painting of colorful spots for $300,000 (that Hirst didn’t even paint) not a scam? How could convincing someone to buy a sculpture made from some artist’s own frozen blood for 1.5 million pounds be anything other than a con job?The galleries, auction houses, collectors, dealers, artists, and critics involved in the contemporary art industry are participating in all kinds of chicanery, some of which would be illegal in other contexts. The art market looks suspiciously like a financial bubble, like the Dutch tulip mania or the South Sea Company, that could pop at any moment just like any other market not based on rational behavior. The $12 Million Stuffed Shark does a great job of explaining how the high end contemporary art market works, revealing all the tricks of the trade that successful artists and dealers use to pump up the value of their work. Don Thompson details how artists become trusted brands, like Coke or Xerox, who art collectors can trust to get them a good return on their investment. He explains how the art trade is becoming less the realm of art historians and more the domain of financial advisors. He explains how marketing and provenance can have a greater impact on the value of a work than the quality of the work itself. For many art collectors the most important things about a work of art are its cost and the likelihood that it might be sold for more in the future. For these people art is above all a status symbol, a way of letting everyone know you’re crazy rich. This book is eye opening and interesting. I may never understand how 300 pounds of candy purchased in bulk and then heaped into a pile can be called a work of art and then sold for hundreds of thousands of dollars, but I’m closer to understanding than I was before.
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  • Darya Conmigo
    January 1, 1970
    Reads like a good detective story. Loved it.
  • David Cattarin
    January 1, 1970
    This is by no means an easy read. The author packs in a lot of information, including economics and a bit of art criticism. Nonetheless, the topic is fascinating. Some parts are obvious: when the ultra rich compete for rare commodities, then the "value" goes up. The obvious, however, is balanced with a behind-the-scenes look at how auction houses, dealers, and art fairs work. It certainly gave me a new appreciation of why museums dislike talking about cost and value when talking about art--the a This is by no means an easy read. The author packs in a lot of information, including economics and a bit of art criticism. Nonetheless, the topic is fascinating. Some parts are obvious: when the ultra rich compete for rare commodities, then the "value" goes up. The obvious, however, is balanced with a behind-the-scenes look at how auction houses, dealers, and art fairs work. It certainly gave me a new appreciation of why museums dislike talking about cost and value when talking about art--the auction prices have little to do with the quality of the art.
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  • Arnied
    January 1, 1970
    Why is some modern art worth millions of dollars? Well, it's not the actual art. Critics don't control it. And the public has very little to do with it. It is really a small collection of collectors who buy, display, loan, then sell said art. They are the ones who create the value for the pieces they believe in. And if they get it in a show, then a museum, then in front of dealers and buyers.. it could be worth millions like Hirst's Shark. The lead culprit in this game is the buyer of said shark Why is some modern art worth millions of dollars? Well, it's not the actual art. Critics don't control it. And the public has very little to do with it. It is really a small collection of collectors who buy, display, loan, then sell said art. They are the ones who create the value for the pieces they believe in. And if they get it in a show, then a museum, then in front of dealers and buyers.. it could be worth millions like Hirst's Shark. The lead culprit in this game is the buyer of said shark, Charles Sastchi. I am a fan of Saatchi due to one of his famous quotes..."Simple and Arresting Truths Create High Impact," Charles SaatchiI believe this to be true but it isn't what drives home prices in modern art. It's what works in advertising. What works in modern art, according to the book is being owned by people like Charles Saatchi. That is the truth and Saatchi creates the impact.Saatchi's most famous sale after Damien Hirst's shark, and his most dramatic profit, came with Marc Quinn's SELF, a cast of the artist's head made from nine pints of his own frozen blood. Saatchi purchased SELF in 1992 for 13000 pounds and sold it to an American collector in 2005 for 1.5 million pounds." The story goes that the head melted in Saatchi's freezer and Quinn had to replace the head at the cost of even more of his blood. That is sacrificing for your art. I hope Saatchi didn't keep the head next to the pork chops. The head is just one of many Saachi stories of buying, convincing the world the work is genius, then selling the work for millions.Hirst is known for a quote about his cows cut into pieces and suspended in twelve formaldehyde-filled tanks. The work is called SOME COMFORT GAINED FROM THE ACCEPTANCE OF THE INHERENT LIES IN EVERYTHING. When asked to explain the title, Hirst said it meant, "The work is worth a lot of money." I believe there is some comfort gained from the acceptance of the inherent lies in everything." Life is a grey area. Actually "Life is a grey area," is a better quote and it's mine. It is not worth a lot of money though because it isn't in a museum and hasn't been owned by Charles Saatchi. My favorite title of a piece in the book... Run from Fear/Fun from Rear. It's erotic of course. It's a Bruce Nauman work. Another one of my favorites. Anyway, if you ever wondered why things as simple as a pile of candy in a corner of a museum is considered art and worth millions, this book explains it pretty well. I'm not gonna let it bother me though. I still love it and the weirder the better. Give me the head made of blood, the cut up cow, the stuffed shark, and the medicine cabinets. I am a fan. Some weird art rules ... Nudity, calm water, purebred dogs and game birds are more valuable that clothed people, rough water, mongrels and weak birds. And bright colors do better than pale colors. Big surprise..
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  • Ilya Kavalerov
    January 1, 1970
    The aim of this book is to answer two related questions: What makes the work of an artist valuable, and why is anyone willing to pay top dollar for usually un-extraordinary and occasionally unlikable objects sold as art? The answers are clear in the opinion of the author. Artists are valuable because of their brand image, which is inherited from their seller’s brand image. This brand image is the confidence that a seller instills in the buyer in that the objects he sells are worthwhile.The autho The aim of this book is to answer two related questions: What makes the work of an artist valuable, and why is anyone willing to pay top dollar for usually un-extraordinary and occasionally unlikable objects sold as art? The answers are clear in the opinion of the author. Artists are valuable because of their brand image, which is inherited from their seller’s brand image. This brand image is the confidence that a seller instills in the buyer in that the objects he sells are worthwhile.The author also touches on some interesting oddities that are present in the unregulated art market. One of these are how the maintenance of the dealer branded confidence requires dealers to ‘manage prices’ for an artist, so that they never go down, know as the ‘ratchet effect.’ If an artist is truly no longer in demand, he may eventually become unsaleable if the supply of his work is available, and reasonable (10-20%) collector discounts have been exhausted. In these cases, if the artist demands sales, he will drop the gallery and join another where his brand confidence has yet to be defined, and where prices may start lower. This leaves people to characterize the art market as being in an extended boom, i.e. a more positive way of saying a bubble.Quotes say all:“It is the dealer branding, and substitution of the dealer’s choice and judgement for the collector’s, that add value. The dealer brand often becomes a substitute for, and certainly is a reinforcement of, aesthetic judgement.”“They, [Art buyers] are not willing to spend the time required to educate themselves to the point of overcoming insecurity”Jasper Johns talking about Leo Castelli: ‘That son of a bitch, you could give him two beer cans and he could sell them.’ Later Johns gave Castelli a sculpture made of LINK two Ballantine ale cans, who sold it for: $“Auction specialists, like all marketing professionals, understand that buying behavior is determined in part bay the group which an individual aspires.”
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  • DoctorM
    January 1, 1970
    "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark" is an unexpected find--- a witty and thoughtful and well-sourced look at the economics of contemporary art, at the ways in which contemporary art is marketed and how artists, dealers, and auctioneers make their money. This isn't a book about critical theory or art history, and the quality or techniques of art being sold isn't at issue here. This is an economist's work, albeit a work with a great deal of empathy for art and artists...and even for dealers and collec "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark" is an unexpected find--- a witty and thoughtful and well-sourced look at the economics of contemporary art, at the ways in which contemporary art is marketed and how artists, dealers, and auctioneers make their money. This isn't a book about critical theory or art history, and the quality or techniques of art being sold isn't at issue here. This is an economist's work, albeit a work with a great deal of empathy for art and artists...and even for dealers and collectors. Thompson begins with Damien Hirst's notorious stuffed shark-- an actual shark, stuffed and sliced up and mounted in adjoining vitrines ---and asks why it sold (reputedly) for $12 million. And from there we're off into into how dealers and gallerists negotiate with artists and buyers, how art auctions work and how the finances of art fairs work. Thompson makes a very clear point: this isn't your rational-market economy. This is about status, luxury, display, bragging rights, and positioning. It's about branding. It's Veblen's world, and Sun Tzu's as well. Buyers and collectors acquire a commodity, but are proud to have paid the higher price. Museum visitors care more about the price and former owner of a piece than they do about the painting itself. If you're ever wondered how an art auction works, or why Sotheby's and Christie's so dominate the field, or what "sold" really means for a hotly-pursued painting by a hot artist, "The $12 Million Stuffed Shark" is a great introduction. And after you read this, you'll never read "Art Forum" again without raising a knowing and ironic eyebrow...
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  • Amalia
    January 1, 1970
    As an artist, I had a love/hate relationship to this book. On the one hand, reading all about the art world had me gripped like a Ludlum novel, but the context made me feel both disheartened and pissed off!I was at Cornish College of the Arts when Jeff Koons came in for a lecture. I found him to be quite off-putting...and to boot, I thought his work sucked. I didn't care for it then, and after more exposure, I still don't...although, having seen his floral puppy at the Guggenheim in Bilbao did g As an artist, I had a love/hate relationship to this book. On the one hand, reading all about the art world had me gripped like a Ludlum novel, but the context made me feel both disheartened and pissed off!I was at Cornish College of the Arts when Jeff Koons came in for a lecture. I found him to be quite off-putting...and to boot, I thought his work sucked. I didn't care for it then, and after more exposure, I still don't...although, having seen his floral puppy at the Guggenheim in Bilbao did generate a smile on my face.Damien Hirst...I find his earlier work intriguing, and I agree that the titles to his works are as important as the works themselves. His admission that he has assistants actually paint his paintings made me pause. He is truly a remarkable marketer, and he has done wonders in branding himself...but his later work doesn't make an impression on me. I have no illusions about my place in the art world, but I think $ has really tainted the contemporary art aren, and it's really all boiling down to just art to get richer...for artists, dealers, collectors.
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  • Caroline
    January 1, 1970
    Informative if all you are interested in is the commodification of the object. Otherwise, too many factual errors, notably about the art itself, and reads as somewhat dated. The author comes off as snidely having the same insecurity about the actual art as any of the buyers he describes because he looks but does not see beyond the surface and a sense that numbers never lie. I went into this knowing it was coming from an economist and not an art historian, but there appears to be little more than Informative if all you are interested in is the commodification of the object. Otherwise, too many factual errors, notably about the art itself, and reads as somewhat dated. The author comes off as snidely having the same insecurity about the actual art as any of the buyers he describes because he looks but does not see beyond the surface and a sense that numbers never lie. I went into this knowing it was coming from an economist and not an art historian, but there appears to be little more than cursory if any research about the art and other information that has bearing on his theme. "Whitney Museum of -Modern- Art?" Emin's tent is only about who she had sex with? Etc... There is no critical thinking regarding how the contemporary fits into the canon of art history in terms of the art world he is trying to critique. Of course this is great stuff for anyone who is more interested in price tags than art or actual culture, and explains why as he sneers at the Hirsts and Koons on display, these are actually the perfect artworks for him and his ilk. Have at the next art fair...
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  • E
    January 1, 1970
    Swim with the sharks: making sense of contemporary artWhen it comes to contemporary art, many observers simply scratch their heads and mumble, “You call that art?” Intriguing, disturbing, exhilarating and obscene, contemporary art is hard to understand. In fact, when you consider pieces like the titular $12 million stuffed shark by Damien Hirst, it is often downright baffling. If you’re looking for artistic explanations and interpretations, though, Don Thompson doesn’t offer much help. That’s no Swim with the sharks: making sense of contemporary artWhen it comes to contemporary art, many observers simply scratch their heads and mumble, “You call that art?” Intriguing, disturbing, exhilarating and obscene, contemporary art is hard to understand. In fact, when you consider pieces like the titular $12 million stuffed shark by Damien Hirst, it is often downright baffling. If you’re looking for artistic explanations and interpretations, though, Don Thompson doesn’t offer much help. That’s not his particular domain. Thompson, an economics and marketing professor, zeroes in on the financial inner-workings of the art world (at least, the pre-2009 recession art world). Curious why certain pieces sell for millions, he delved into the peculiar personalities that inhabit this controversial genre. getAbstract applauds his lively exploration of a fascinating topic that few economists would even ponder.
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  • Jan
    January 1, 1970
    A well-researched academic overview of the contemporary art market, this book also provides its fair share of entertaining stories, and answers pretty much any conceivable question about the mechanics of the art business, while providing a picture of who the people are who play a prominent part in the art world. While it answers the question "How is the price of contemporary art determined, and why is it occasionally so high?" Short answer: BRANDING, BRANDING, BRANDING. At the very least, Damien A well-researched academic overview of the contemporary art market, this book also provides its fair share of entertaining stories, and answers pretty much any conceivable question about the mechanics of the art business, while providing a picture of who the people are who play a prominent part in the art world. While it answers the question "How is the price of contemporary art determined, and why is it occasionally so high?" Short answer: BRANDING, BRANDING, BRANDING. At the very least, Damien Hirst, Charles Saatchi and the other characters in this drama are geniuses at BRANDING.I would love to read more about the actual art, and the taste-makers who drive the market. Fortunately, I'm sure to find plenty to chew on in the extensive bibliography, and I'll never be able to look at contemporary museum pieces the same way.
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  • Ryan Chapman
    January 1, 1970
    This is a bit dryer than I expected, though still rewarding. The author takes an economist's (i.e. decontextualized) view of the contemporary art scene: the star artists, dealers, gallerists, and collectors, and how they all got that way. As you would expect, money plays a much more important role than taste. (Terence Koh, ahem.) Top-tier artists, once in the the upper echelon, can produce whatever they want - their name and brand is infinitely more important to the market than the quality of th This is a bit dryer than I expected, though still rewarding. The author takes an economist's (i.e. decontextualized) view of the contemporary art scene: the star artists, dealers, gallerists, and collectors, and how they all got that way. As you would expect, money plays a much more important role than taste. (Terence Koh, ahem.) Top-tier artists, once in the the upper echelon, can produce whatever they want - their name and brand is infinitely more important to the market than the quality of their output. The whole scene is a bit depressing if you're an artist, and emboldening if you're an Russian oligarch.
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  • Cory Huff
    January 1, 1970
    A deep look at how art is sold at the highest levels. My biggest take away is that big art sales are often the result of wealthy people taking the advice of art dealers. Unfortunately many expensive pieces of art are similar to "pump and dump" stocks. A great deal of excitement is generated among a wealthy populace that is largely ignorant of the future prospects of a particular artist. In addition this book shows how the average artist is locked out of the upper reaches of the art market.
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  • Charles Eliot
    January 1, 1970
    According to author Don Thompson, the economics of contemporary (post-1970) art are driven by the way five groups - artists, collectors, dealers, auction houses, and museums - interact to drive up the value of their brands. So if you want to understand how a stuffed shark floating in a tank full of formaldehyde can be worth $12 million dollars, read this entertaining and informative book.
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  • Theresa
    January 1, 1970
    Fantastic, almost anthropological/ethnographic look at the contemporary art market and how it operates, who drives it, and why it is the way it is. Very much in the style of Peter Watson's look at Sotheby's. For an outsider to be able to slip into this often exclusive world and provide insight for those of us who will never penetrate it, yet remain fascinated by it, is quite the achievement.
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  • Matthew Bird
    January 1, 1970
    In the world of contemporary art, 'carving out a name' is paramount. Sotheby's and Christies hold the duopoly of auction houses, forcing prospectives to adjust their positioning subordinately.Art itself isn't the main concern here, but consignments are the show of power; if they can prove they can acquire, then success always follows.Once establishing themselves, the goal is to foster their brands responding to the activities of superstar collectors and magazines who apprise their opinions, and In the world of contemporary art, 'carving out a name' is paramount. Sotheby's and Christies hold the duopoly of auction houses, forcing prospectives to adjust their positioning subordinately.Art itself isn't the main concern here, but consignments are the show of power; if they can prove they can acquire, then success always follows.Once establishing themselves, the goal is to foster their brands responding to the activities of superstar collectors and magazines who apprise their opinions, and create meaning for artists, buyers and the industry as a whole.Nowadays, only a limited percentage of art makes its way to the traditional on-the-day auctions but interestingly, the richest of buyers (Bill Gates, the given example) are reported as still seeking the 'classics' suggesting either; the Saatchi's of the world possibly aren't as effective at their jobs as before, the cream aren't fazed by trends, or that the value of exclusivity has evolved to it's most extreme heights of privacy and segmentation.Otherwise, Sotheby's and Christies competition over preferred marketing remains convincing although hard to distinguish from HNWCs getting duped by publishers, to part with exorbitant amounts of money per piece.Ultimately, some buyers are portrayed as gullible victims to powerful collectors, the strongest of auction houses are usually profit-maximising, and the industry is kept at checks-and-balances by civil legislation.This marks the pinnacle of excess and inconspicuous investments, where obtaining the most-sought-after artefact carries with it the potential of losing personal values, as well as lots of money.pg. 151 "The reserve is most often set at 80 percent of the low estimate; it is occasionally as low as 60 per cent but never higher than 100 per cent."Such involved price setting illustrates the dependence bidders have on auction houses, to assure purchases.Venusaur.
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  • Fern F
    January 1, 1970
    4.5 StarsA little out of date, but this book is a fascinating introduction to the bonkers world of the art business: how dealers make money, how auction houses have come to take control of a huge part of the art world, how rich people spend billions on art and work hard to make sure that the art they bought goes up in value over the years. Thompson occasionally ventures into discussions of what is art and the difference between what you like and what would make you money 10 years down the line, 4.5 StarsA little out of date, but this book is a fascinating introduction to the bonkers world of the art business: how dealers make money, how auction houses have come to take control of a huge part of the art world, how rich people spend billions on art and work hard to make sure that the art they bought goes up in value over the years. Thompson occasionally ventures into discussions of what is art and the difference between what you like and what would make you money 10 years down the line, which is a fascinating discussion, but for the most part he focuses on the economics, which is incredibly absurd. The book also comes with a ton of examples, so, for instance, Thompson isn't just telling you that a lot of forgeries are sold/auctioned, but he includes real world examples of cases where forgeries were sold in bad faith. Thompson has another book, "The Orange Balloon Dog," that was released in 2017 (in paperback), so it'll be interesting to read how the 2008 crash affected the art world... especially since in $12 million stuffed shark there is a lot of optimism seen in the interviews with art world folk about the continued good state of the economy.
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  • Maxwell Foley
    January 1, 1970
    There's a wealth of information in here, but it's all a bit too detail-oriented for me. Thompson really does go into intimate detail on the economic realities of galleries, auction houses, museums, etc., which was all a bit of a blur for my non-economically savvy self. What I was more interested in was an explanation as to exactly why contemporary art looks the way it does - why in the world has our society elected to champion the vague, unbeautiful Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, etc. a There's a wealth of information in here, but it's all a bit too detail-oriented for me. Thompson really does go into intimate detail on the economic realities of galleries, auction houses, museums, etc., which was all a bit of a blur for my non-economically savvy self. What I was more interested in was an explanation as to exactly why contemporary art looks the way it does - why in the world has our society elected to champion the vague, unbeautiful Jasper Johns, Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, etc. as the foremost artistic mouthpieces of our civilization? Thompson wouldn't say it in as many words, but he makes the case that it's literally all a profit motive - dealers convincing rich people to buy oblique, shock-value based, highly priced work to show off the buyer's sophistication in an empty signaling ritual. Critics and theorists have essentially no say in which artists become successful, he tells us. I don't doubt that this is the case but this explanation still leaves me wanting a little more context to the whole story. If this book had gone a little deeper into the artistic and cultural trends which interact with the economic reality, I would have enjoyed it more, but it probably would have bored more economically inclined readers - so to each his or her own.
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  • Kay
    January 1, 1970
    I LOVE this book. Non fiction (although you'd think it was way out fiction by the title). What a great introduction to the economics of modern art- how all art is bought and sold really. It's one of the non-fiction reads in our small book club, focusing on Art this year. It was a slower read, read a chapter/think about the chapter/look up some of the art mentioned - then wait a day or two to repeat the pattern. Well documentation at the end of the book, with more suggestions in covering the topi I LOVE this book. Non fiction (although you'd think it was way out fiction by the title). What a great introduction to the economics of modern art- how all art is bought and sold really. It's one of the non-fiction reads in our small book club, focusing on Art this year. It was a slower read, read a chapter/think about the chapter/look up some of the art mentioned - then wait a day or two to repeat the pattern. Well documentation at the end of the book, with more suggestions in covering the topic. There's no spoiler here - art is a poor investment!!! Buy it if you like it, but unless you have tens to hundreds of millions to invest, stick with something else
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  • Cynthia
    January 1, 1970
    I'm about two thirds of the way through and will probably abandon this soon, but not because i'm not enjoying it. It's fascinating and he's a good clear writer and a sensible person and he makes it all come to life and make sense (to the degree that something absurd can make sense). I'd say the latter third of the book is more specifically about the mechanics of selling art, and less of interest to me; however, i think anyone who actually is involved in the world of art would find this info usef I'm about two thirds of the way through and will probably abandon this soon, but not because i'm not enjoying it. It's fascinating and he's a good clear writer and a sensible person and he makes it all come to life and make sense (to the degree that something absurd can make sense). I'd say the latter third of the book is more specifically about the mechanics of selling art, and less of interest to me; however, i think anyone who actually is involved in the world of art would find this info useful.
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  • Alexandra Sundarsingh
    January 1, 1970
    I loved the anecdotes in this book. There was acquisition by rock, paper, scissors. There was locking rich people out of a premiere so they could "experience exclusion". Regrettably though, the authors refuses to consider in detail any of the angles he introduces other than the idea that people are motivated by branding and a lack of knowledge. While I was pretty convinced those were huge factors, I was hoping for a little more in terms of interesting connective tissue. Just google the anecdotes I loved the anecdotes in this book. There was acquisition by rock, paper, scissors. There was locking rich people out of a premiere so they could "experience exclusion". Regrettably though, the authors refuses to consider in detail any of the angles he introduces other than the idea that people are motivated by branding and a lack of knowledge. While I was pretty convinced those were huge factors, I was hoping for a little more in terms of interesting connective tissue. Just google the anecdotes instead.
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  • Michael Shnayerson
    January 1, 1970
    Don Thompson was perhaps the first person to try to analyze the contemporary art market for the great majority of us who knew very little about it. In "The $12 million Stuffed Shark" - and just as much the two books that follow -- he frames the story with key facts and numbers, but also weaves in lively anecdotes, giving his reader a clear sense of who the most important players are. Great fun - and a real contribution to the field.
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