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The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (Anglais) Broché – 13 avril 2010

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January 13, 2005, New York

One problem for the agent trying to sell the stuffed shark was the $12 million asking price for this work of contemporary art.* Another was that it weighed just over two tons, and was not going to be easy to carry home. The taxidermy fifteen-foot tiger shark “sculpture” was mounted in a giant glass vitrine and creatively named The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living. It is illustrated in the center portion of the book. The shark had been caught in 1991 in Australia, and prepared and mounted in England by technicians working under the direction of British artist Damien Hirst.

Another concern was that while the shark was certainly a novel artistic concept, many in the art world were uncertain whether it qualified as art. The question was important because $12 million represented more money than had ever been paid for a work by a living artist, other than Jasper Johns – more than for a Gerhard Richter, a Robert Rauschenberg, or a Lucian Freud.

Why would anyone even consider paying this much money for the shark? Part of the answer is that in the world of contemporary art, branding can substitute for critical judgment, and lots of branding was involved here. The seller was Charles Saatchi, an advertising magnate and famous art collector, who fourteen years earlier had commissioned Hirst to produce the work for £50,000. At the time that sum was considered so ridiculous that The Sun heralded the transaction with the headline “50,000 For Fish Without Chips.” Hirst intended the figure to be an “outrageous” price, set as much for the publicity it would attract as for the monetary return.

The agent selling the shark was New York-based Larry Gagosian, the world’s most famous art dealer. One buyer known to be actively pursuing the shark was Sir Nicholas Serota, director of London’s Tate Modern museum, who had a very constrained budget to work with. Four collectors with much greater financial means had shown moderate interest. The most promising was American Steve Cohen, a very rich Connecticut hedge fund executive. Hirst, Saatchi, Gagosian, Tate, Serota, and Cohen represented more art world branding than is almost ever found in one place. Saatchi’s ownership and display of the shark had become a symbol for newspaper writers of the shock art being produced by the group known as the Young British Artists, the yBas. Put the branding and the publicity together and the shark must be art, and the price must not be unreasonable.

There was another concern, serious enough that with any other purchase it might have deterred buyers. The shark had deteriorated dramatically since it was first unveiled at Saatchi’s private gallery in London in 1992. Because the techniques used to preserve it had been inadequate, the original had decomposed until its skin became heavily wrinkled and turned a pale green, a fin had fallen off, and the formaldehyde solution in the tank had turned murky. The intended illusion had been of a tiger shark swimming toward the viewer through the white space of the gallery, hunting for dinner. The illusion now was described as entering Norman Bates’ fruit cellar and finding Mother embalmed in her chair. Curators at the Saatchi Gallery tried adding bleach to the formaldehyde, but this only hastened the decay. In 1993 the curators gave up and had the shark skinned. The skin was then stretched over a weighted fiberglass mold. The shark was still greenish, still wrinkled.

Damien Hirst had not actually caught the now-decaying shark. Instead he made “Shark Wanted” telephone calls to post offices on the Australian coast, which put up posters giving his London number. He paid £6,000 for the shark: £4,000 to catch it and £2,000 to pack it in ice and ship it to London. There was the question of whether Hirst could replace this rotting shark simply by purchasing and stuffing a new one. Many art historians would argue that if refurbished or replaced, the shark became a different artwork. If you overpainted a Renoir, it would not be the same work. But if the shark was a conceptual piece, would catching an equally fierce shark and replacing the original using the same name be acceptable? Dealer Larry Gagosian drew a weak analogy to American installation artist Dan Flavin, who works with fluorescent light tubes. If a tube on a Flavin sculpture burns out, you replace it. Charles Saatchi, when asked if refurbishing the shark would rob it of its meaning as art, responded “Completely.” So what is more important–the original artwork or the artist’s intention?

Nicolas Serota offered Gagosian $2 million on behalf of Tate Modern, but it was turned down. Gagosian continued his sales calls. When alerted that Saatchi intended to sell soon, Cohen agreed to buy.

Hirst, Saatchi, and Gagosian are profiled later in the book. But who is Steve Cohen? Who pays $12 million for a decaying shark? Cohen is an example of the financial-sector buyer who drives the market in high-end contemporary art. He is the owner of SAC. Capital Advisors, LLC in Greenwich, Connecticut, and is considered a genius. He manages $11 billion in assets and is said to earn $500 million a year. He displays his trophy art in a 32,000 square foot mansion in Greenwich, a 6,000 square foot pied-à-terre in Manhattan, and a 19,000 square foot bungalow in Delray Beach, Florida. In 2007 he purchased a ten bedroom, two acre estate in East Hampton, New York.

To put the $12 million price tag in context it is necessary to understand how rich really rich is. Assume Mr Cohen has a net worth of $4 billion to go with an annual income of $500 million before tax. At a 10 percent rate of return – far less than he actually earns on the assets he manages – his total income is just over $16 million a week, or $90,000 an hour. The shark cost him five days’ income.

Some journalists later expressed doubt whether the selling price for Physical Impossibility actually was $12 million. Several New York media reported that the only other firm offer aside from that made by Tate Modern came from Cohen, and the actual selling price was $8 million. New York Magazine reported $13 million. But the $12 million figure was the most widely cited, it produced extensive publicity, and the parties agreed not to discuss the amount. At any of these numbers, the sale greatly increased the value of the other Hirst work in the Saatchi collection.

Cohen was not sure what to do with the shark; it remained stored in England. He said he might donate it to the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York – which might have led to his being offered a position on the MoMA board. The art world heralded the purchase as a victory for MoMA over London’s Tate Modern. London’s Guardian newspaper bemoaned the sale to an American, saying: “The acquisition will confirm MoMA’s dominance as the leading gallery of modern art in the world.”

* * *

I began the journey of discovery that became this book at the Royal Academy of Arts in London where on October 5, 2006, along with six hundred others, I attended a private preview of USA Today, an exhibition curated by the same Charles Saatchi. This was billed as an exhibition of art by thirty-seven talented young American artists. Many were not in fact American-born, though they were working in New York – an illustration of how hard it is to label an artist.

The Royal Academy is a major British public gallery. Founded in 1768, it promotes its exhibitions as comparable to those at the National Gallery, the two Tate galleries, and leading museums outside the United Kingdom. The USA Today show was not a commercial art fair, because nothing was listed as for sale. Nor was it a traditional museum show, because one man, Charles Saatchi, owned all the work. He chose what was shown. The work would appreciate in value from being shown in such a prestigious public space, and all profit from future sales would accrue to Saatchi.

Saatchi is neither a professional curator nor museum official. Over a four-decade career he has been both the most talked-about advertising executive of his generation, and later the most talked-about art collector. He is wildly successful in reselling art he has collected at a profit, Damien Hirst’s shark being but one example.

There was criticism of Saatchi both for using the Royal Academy to advance the value of his own art, and because some considered the work decadent or pornographic. The artists present at the opening had no illusions about the nature of the event. One called the Royal Academy the “temporary home of the Saatchi Gallery.” Another said it was good to see his art on the wall because it might not be displayed again until it was offered at auction.

Extensive promotion of the show produced huge press coverage. It was hyped pre-opening by every major newspaper in London, by the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, and a dozen other major U.S. papers. Billed as an exhibition of shocking work, the show included a battle scene involving rats, and an image of a girl performing a sex act on a man.

The theme of USA Today was billed as disillusionment with contemporary America. Critics and curators at the private opening had diverging opinions of the theme and the work. Some questioned whether the artists could properly be described as disillusioned, or even talented. Norman Rosenthal, the Royal Academy’s exhibitions secretary, said the work “introduces a sense of political edge and anger mixed with nostalgia; this is an exhibition for our times.” Critic Brian Sewell said: “At least Sensation [Saatchi’s previous exhibition] made me feel nauseous. This made me feel nothing.” Ivor Abrahams, a sculptor who sits on the RA exhibitions committee, added: “It’s schoolboy smut and a cynical ploy to get Saatchi even mo... --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

Revue de presse

“An irreverent but expert guide to the beguiling business of contemporary art.” Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life

“If you read no other book about art in your life, read the one that’s gripped me like a thriller for the past two days. … The $12 Million Stuffed Shark.”
— Richard Morrison, The Times (UK)

“Despite the dizzying extravagance of the world he explores, Thompson’s work remains grounded in hard analysis. And in describing a world that seems insane in its fervour, lust, and escalation, his steady, thorough, and even approach is refreshingly cool.”
The Walrus --Ce texte fait référence à l'édition Relié .

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Détails sur le produit

  • Broché: 268 pages
  • Editeur : Macmillan; Édition : 1 (13 avril 2010)
  • Langue : Anglais
  • ISBN-10: 0230620590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230620599
  • Dimensions du produit: 15,7 x 2 x 23,1 cm
  • Moyenne des commentaires client : 5.0 étoiles sur 5  Voir tous les commentaires (2 commentaires client)
  • Classement des meilleures ventes d'Amazon: 81.595 en Livres anglais et étrangers (Voir les 100 premiers en Livres anglais et étrangers)
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1 internautes sur 1 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile  Par Jassous le 21 janvier 2013
Format: Broché Achat vérifié
A bit long in the end but what's for sure is that once you have read it you really feel like you know all the essentials about the Contemporary Art industry.
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Par maxart le 10 octobre 2011
Format: Broché
very interesting book to beginners in art market. full of tales, thoughs deep questions and quite remarkable analysis, etc. Highly recommended. super!
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Amazon.com: 102 commentaires
89 internautes sur 90 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A shark that is not alone swimming in those waters... 25 octobre 2008
Par Reich Claude - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Written by an economist who had access to the most important actors (collectors, dealers, auctioneers, curators, art fair organizers...) while doing his research, this book is an in-depth study of the way the contemporary art market functions, the part played by auction houses, dealers, big collectors, museums, the sometimes incestuous relationship that exists between all of them, how art is priced, how auctions are organized (on and off the scene), how gallery shows are sold (or pre-sold), the importance of art branding in creating an artist's reputation (the brand being the auction house, the gallery, the artist himself, a museum, or even a collector if he is important enough)and, most importantly, how these art brands are created. One insightful conclusion is that the art market, and contemporary art in particular, is as much brand-driven as any other high-end luxury market. Through case studies (the dealers Larry Gagosian or Jay Joplin, the artists Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons or Andy Warhol, the auction houses Sotheby's and Christie's, the collectors Charles Saatchi or Ronald Lauder...) and broader considerations on the overall economics of art, the author manages to write a book which is at the same time well informed (with some slight spelling mistakes though, e.g. the Portuguese collector Jose Berardo becoming "Joe Bernardo", or the dealer Faggionato sometimes mistakenly spelt "Faccionato"), to the point and easy to read. Among the more than twenty books available on this topic on Amazon's, this one is the best in my opinion (and I've read quite a few...).
38 internautes sur 39 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Great Read 30 septembre 2008
Par D. Moulton - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I'm more of a business and economics book reader than professed art reader and this book scratched that itch while adding something new and refreshing to my usual selections that kept me reading "just a few more pages".

Thompson does a great job of getting behind how these Goliaths of art like Hirst and Bacon were created and issues of valuation and branding that are easy to ignore in the "magic" of art. I found myself reading it on the subway and after work whenever I had a second and I finished it in a couple days, which is pretty fast for me.

Thompson never loses sight of the assumed intangibility of art--the inherent subjectivity--but encases it in economics in the same way vein as Freakonomics, and I've definitely finished this book with a few cocktail quotes and points that I've brought up in conversations.

This is a great read that I can recommend to business, economics, and art readers. Thompson walks the fine line of these areas to write a book that will engage them all.
87 internautes sur 100 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
A very limited view 2 novembre 2008
Par Kcolorado - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
I can't rate this book as highly as the other reviewers.
There are parts of the book that are very good and flesh out the startling numbers we hear from auctions and sales of contemporary art. The author is an economist and he sets out to understand both the both the economics and marketing of art today. He looks at art as a commodity which it is to the people he quotes and interviews. His statement,"The art trade is the least transparent and least regulated major commercial activity in the world." is dead on correct. By including some quotes from critic Jerry Saltz and occasionally Dave Hickey and Robert Hughes, he does touch on the aesthetics in a very glancing way. But he completely misses the boat when he makes blanket pronouncements; "Artists who do not find mainstream gallery representation within a year or two of graduation are unlikely ever to achieve high prices, or see their work appear at fairs or auctions or in art magazines." Huh, every heard of Mary Heilmann, Christo or thousands of others?
Luckily for us, most of the artists we revere today didn't follow that path. He makes other statements and tossed around statistics that are not footnoted and therefore hard to verify. I can't argue with the reality behind some of them; that most artists will leave the art world before they are 30 and few with find representation with mainstream, much less `branded" galleries. However, Thompson allows himself to be swept away by the hype of the "branded" galleries and the auction houses and thereby appear pretty ridiculous at times.
In fairness, I do think his book might be useful reading for art students, so at least they have some understanding of the market and how difficult it is to hit the top. But if one is trying to get an understanding of all that is going on today in art, its diversity, energy and excitement, you only have to go beyond the `branded galleries" auction houses and take a look at the contemporary galleries and museums in your own city. Art is a commodity but luckily for all of us, it is much more than that.
16 internautes sur 17 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
It's all about the "brand" 8 décembre 2008
Par S. McGee - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié
When someone about to sell an art collection gets the two rival auction houses to play "rock, scissors, paper" and awards the $20 million sale to the winner; when the estimated value of a work by a contemporary artist is calculated to be the equivalent of what a collector would have needed to pay to purchase four Impressionist works (two Monets, a Pissaro and a Cezanne), then how, on earth, is anyone supposed to make sense of the art market?

Don Thompson has a one word answer: Branding. In his well-reasoned, straightforward analysis of the way the art market functions, he discusses the way in which a select coterie of collectors, dealers, auction houses, museums and others can transform an object into something that is frenetically sought after by scores of affluent purchasers. "Never underestimate how insecure buyers are about contemporary art," a former Sotheby's specialist who now works for Bonham's tells Thompson at the outset. The high prices for objects such as the stuffed (and pickled) shark in the title of the book have as much to do with the activities of these 'branded' players promoting certain artists, Thompson himself argues.

Don't look for any insight into the art historical importance of these works -- Thompson, although he doesn't state this view explicitly, does appear to side with those art world experts who say that in many cases it's premature to decide which artists will prove to be our century's equivalents to Vermeer, Rembrandt, Turner or Picasso. The only thing of which we can all be sure is that the hunt is on, and due to the tremendous explosion in the amount of global wealth and the nature of art as something that can transform someone from being just another rich person into a man or woman of taste and style, the art market (until the last few months) has been on a tear.

Thompson is delving into a reality that nearly all art market observers prefer to either ignore or dress up in fancy concepts: art has become as big a business as any other, and the laws of supply and demand and the role of marketing play just as big a role here as in any other business despite all the indignant insistence that art is "different". Certainly, art plays a role in our lives that cars, DVD players and above-ground swimming pools never will. But nor is it as pure and elevated as many of its participants would like to portray it as being. Indeed, Thompson notes, that attitude actually hurts collectors trying to make sensible and informed decisions both about what they like and what works have value. The more distracted they are by the branding, the less bandwidth they have available to ponder those issues.

Thompson has crafted a compelling narrative that relies more on economics, business practices and human psychology than it does on art history to explain the frenzied contemporary art scene, where values of "wet paint" works (i.e. just completed) by art students can almost double overnight if endorsed by a 'branded' collector. Perhaps most disturbing to me are the insights into the cynical mindset of some artists who now focus as much or more on business success as the creation of the objects themselves. (Obviously, artists have always needed to sell their works in order to create more, but few, I suspect, have ever achieved the kind of affluence that greater numbers are now reaching so early in their career -- at a point when it's still hard to argue that they are part of a new 'canon'.)

If you're looking for insight into the artistic process, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you want a straightforward tale of the business side of this market, it's an admirably unbiased and coherent narrative, pulling no punches and yet never tipping over into populist outrage of the "my child could have painted that!" variety. Thompson is no fanatic, but he is, like any good academic, a skeptic -- and skeptics are all too rare in the art market. (After all, skepticism doesn't sell.) Thompson doesn't get confrontational or deliberately provocative, but confines himself to being thoughtful and reflective.

Perhaps the ideal reader is someone who is fascinated by art, and would love to become a collector, at whatever level. There are some explicit tips (never talk to the supercilious gallery girls, always chat up the security guard to get the real insight into the story behind what is hanging on the gallery walls) as well as straightforward explanations of how dealers select which artists they will represent, what the novice can expect at an auction, etc. And the wannabe collector will emerge with a good sense of all the many ways the "artistic industrial complex" will attempt to shape his or her views, such as (paid for) scholarly essays in museum and auction house catalogs.

A valuable addition to the still-limited ranks of the books taking an unbiased look at the clo.sed circle of the art market. Recommended in conjunction with Seven Days in the Art World, which combines this kind of perspective with the creative dimension.
17 internautes sur 19 ont trouvé ce commentaire utile 
Clarity in Contemporary Art - From a Canadian Economist 15 janvier 2009
Par Tom Groenfeldt - Publié sur Amazon.com
Format: Relié Achat vérifié
Confused about modern art? Intimidated by the beautiful young women sitting at the front desks of the all-white contemporary art galleries from New York to London?

Don Thompson, who teaches marketing and economics in Toronto, London and Boston offers reassurance based on a year of research into the art market. This is an excellent combination of smart reporting with questions informed by a background in business and economics. Tired of trying to reach through long-winded tomes on the aesthetics of contemporary art? Here's a welcome and information respite.

You can't understand, or plain can't stand, most of what you see? He finds that experts in the field of contemporary art think 85 percent of it is crap - they just argue over which 85 percent.

Whew. I was wondering if I was alone in skipping gallery after gallery in the big art warehouses in New York's Chelsea. After a quick glance through the doors of most, I move on without ever entering.

Four out of five contemporary art galleries close within five years, and 10 percent of more established galleries also go out of business. Only one artist out of 200 will ever get their work into the auctions at Christie's or Sotheby's. Thompson says London and New York each have 40,000 artists. Of those, 25 are superstars and about 300 are making a decent living. Whew...how do art schools ever persuade student to spend a couple of years and pay tuition to do it?

That puts a lot of the art world in perspective.

Still, the market is active. More than 100 museums have opened in the last 25 years, and each will want to acquire at least 2,000 works of art. Then again, with 40,000 artists in just two art capitals (And where is Paris in this equation? Good question. No mention of the Chinese villages which churn out copies or the growing leagues of accomplished Chinese painters - maybe in the sequel.)

Contemporary art is, or was, a fast-growing market. In one auction, Thompson notes, a Francis Bacon painting at £5.5 million would have paid for two Monets, one Pissarro and a Cezanne auctioned the night before.

Meanwhile, in an effort to beat the two top houses, Phillips de Pury has focused on contemporary art and sold more 21st century art that the other two houses combined.

Think these financiers who buy art are so smart? Thompson says that a
Jeff Koons piece which brought $4 million at Sotheby's in November 2006 could have been picked up from a dealer a few blocks away for $2.25 million.

Does art make sense as an investment? No. "Eighty percent of the art bought from local dealers and local art fairs will never resell for as much as the original purchase price."

"In the overwhelming majors of cases, art is neither a good investment nor an efficient investment vehicle."

Fewer than half the modern and contemporary artists in a Christie's or Sotheby's auction catalogue 25 years ago are still offered at any major auction, says Thompson.

While I can't claim comprehensive knowledge of art books published in the last year, I would hazard a guess that this is one of the clearer explanations of what goes on in the world of studios, galleries and museums.
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