$12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses download

$12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses

$12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses
Pages: 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.


Why would a smart New York investment banker pay twelve million dollars for the decaying, stuffed carcass of a shark? How does Jackson Pollock's drip painting No.5 1948 sell for $140 million? And why does a leather jacket with silver chain attached, tossed in a corner and titled 'No One Ever Leaves', bring $690,000 at a 2007 Sotheby's auction? The Twelve Million Dollar Stuffed Shark is the first book to look at the economics of the modern art world and the strategies which power the market to produce such astronomical prices. Don Thompson talks to auction houses, dealers, and collectors to find out the source of Charles Saatchi's Midas touch, and how far a gallery like White Cube has contributed to Damien Hirst becoming the highest-earning artist in the world. The result is a fascinating, shrewd and highly readable insight into a world where brand is everything.

Don Thompson is an economist and professor of business specialising in art. He has taught at the London School of Economics and the Harvard Business School. This is his first trade book. He lives in London and Toronto.

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PARIS - Musée du Louvre

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 Rothko

Here is a quote from Andy Warhol

From page 178:
“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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