Informative and occasionally hilarious look at the surreal contemporary art market.
This world has been fodder for mockery ever since Marcel Duchamp signed a urinal and proclaimed it art, but there’s a whole lot more money at stake now, notes Thompson (Marketing and Economics/York Univ.). He bravely attempts to apply theories of basic economics and markets to the contemporary art scene, in which absurdity frequently rules. Evincing astute knowledge of the arcane workings of high-end art galleries and auction houses, the author walks readers through the mechanics of how a contemporary artist’s work comes to be regarded as worthy of notice. Among the factors at play, Thompson avers, the artwork’s quality is rarely prominent. Indeed, he notes, many of the pieces discussed—from Francis Bacon’s disquieting studies of morbidity to Jeff Koons’s glossy essays in camp—are not what most people would want to display in their homes or offices. The text makes it clear that who wants to buy a piece of art and how much they are willing pay for it matter more than its actual content. Damien Hirst—the artist who got $12 million for a shark packed with formaldehyde and mounted in a glass case—would probably be nobody if he had not been noticed by the right dealers and thus “branded” to the super-rich as an artist of note. “You are nobody in contemporary art until you have been branded,” declares Thompson. He makes no judgment about this fact, but simply notes the absurdities, categorizes them and moves on. Sticking to the numbers leads him to a simple conclusion: “Art is neither a good investment nor an efficient investment vehicle.”
A clear-headed approach to a frequently high-pitched issue.