An exploration of how “the most newsworthy aspect of contemporary art is the price paid for it.”
This tell-all book won’t give you any insights into how to better appreciate the nuances of Andy Warhol silkscreens, but if you are ultrawealthy, it will tell you how to invest in them, take tax deductions, and, if you wait long enough, make money. Thompson (Emeritus, Marketing and Strategy/York Univ.; The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art, 2014, etc.) has established himself as one of the premier experts in the world of art investing. He writes here that his two previous books on the subject were based on informed art buyers and sellers and rational pricing. Now, that premise has been “shaken.” Taking us on a “journey through the curious world of high-end contemporary art,” he begins with five iconic works: three by Jeff Koons, including his metallic sculptures Balloon Dog (Orange) and Play-Doh, Christopher Wood’s word painting Apocalypse Now, and Francis Bacon’s Three Studies of Lucien Freud. The author describes the auctions of each, arguing that the astronomical prices being paid for them—Dog went for $52 million, and the winner put it in a warehouse while he waits for its value to increase—were all high-end investments. The price of Apocalypse Now has “increased 4,400 times in twenty-five years.” Thompson explores the upper echelons of this art world in great detail, including tales about auction houses and dealers, tax ploys in acquiring, the relationship between contemporary art and fashion, museums, mega art stores, online selling, and certain big-time buyers. The “most important person in the world of contemporary art” isn’t an artist, he writes; it’s Sheikha al-Mayassa, who heads the Qatar Museums Authority and spends millions to acquire art for a tiny number of museumgoers.
A scathing critique of the contemporary art world that will have a relatively small audience.