The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art (Anglais) Relié – 27 mai 2014
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Thompson gives the clearest explanation I've seen of just what drives the modern art scene. The proliferation of museums and of the super-rich all competing for "important" pieces (especially ones with interesting backstories) creates a pricing structure that would make even Veblen gasp. He details the rise of the über-gallery and the über-über-gallery, explains the mysteries of auction price manipulation, and discusses the rise of art collecting in China and the oil sheikdoms. If you're looking for the staight dope, this is it, and it's delivered in a straightforward way, without stooping to "ain't-it-ridiculous" snarking.
I will say that my opinion is jaundiced by how seriously society seem to take all this in 2014 - to the tune of tens of millions of dollars for art bought on a whim by the richest one percent. Like Thompson says in the book, we wouldn't care if some rich guy bought a car, but I'm supposed to care because he hung a Damien Hirst on the wall? And yet we do.
Of course, the reason for that is part of the "fine art industry" that has been created - especially over the last couple decades. What might have started out as a small gallery with a few high-end clients and a lot in the middle, is now geared to HUGE money at the top end, and not a whole lot of concern for those below. The big auction houses, in combination with top galleries exist in a symbiotic relationship to drive the prices higher, maintaining ever increasing prices. Big auctions become "events" much more than a simple opportunity to buy something - and with that interest, prices keep climbing. We want to know, "who bought The Scream? And he paid HOW much?? Wow!"
It's very difficult to respect an industry that takes itself so seriously while providing nothing of any real value (I mean the PROCESS, not the artwork). I feel the same way about pro sports, where prices have gone up and up and up - but the games remain the same three hours long. How do they justify it? Like Thompson points out, when you buy art, you are paying it to "do a job," in this case, hang on the wall and show itself off about how rich you are - not so much about the quality of the art itself.
And I know the feeling - i bought an expensive photograph that I liked a lot. But then the value didn't increase like I expected, and now I'm like, "it's kind of boring." It's the SAME photo - but it's not doing the job I hired it for, which is to make me feel validated for my investment prowess.
I still don't really understand the mindset of the few collectors that Thompson discusses - they don't seem to enjoy collecting as much as "possessing," which is fine, but I wish more of their behavior was analyzed. If you're a billionaire hedge fund manager, you can own anything - so why art? And why by a specific artist? Only an investment? I felt like that was an unanswered question.
And there's a strange relationship where galleries will bid and buy their own artists work at auction. This keeps the price up, since you can't buy it for less - but how does that last? People aren't stupid, and they know the "value' has been manipulated. It seems like that's completely unsustainable, and maybe it is in the long-term, but it keeps prices higher in the short-term? Not sure.
The book's not light reading, but Thompson's breezy tone elevates the fairly intense economic lesson he's providing. If I was confused at times, that was my fault, not his. It does get dry at a few points, but mostly, this is a neat - vicarious - observation of the highest-end art market and all the different players who make it work.
Cutting through every layer of hype that brands popular modern artists (those who sell their works for exorbitant prices, pre- or post-mortem) as either good or bad, as geniuses or lunatics, this book delves into the world of art auctions and marketing methods to see why the price tag is king. We see why strange and terribly anti-aesthetic works fetch crazy prices, and how modern artists got to be known as "modern" in the first place. It is interesting and it will likely be appalling to those who think that art must follow a particular format or be worth looking at in order to be worth a fortune. But at least Don offers even these people an inside look into how such "appalling" art got to be so popular in the first place.
Very highly recommended for business executives and majors, people curious about what disgustingly rich people do with their money, or any artist who is willing to stare into the guts of art economics to see what really sells, and why.
A lot of ground is covered here. As the title suggests, it is the contemporary art market which is examined as well as some slightly more mature areas such as the work of Frances Bacon which are not generally considered fully contemporary these days, as opposed to art in general. Some of the statistics are eye catching. Half of works bought in auction will never achieve the same realised price again and no work sold for over $30m has ever, and I repeat, not ever even on one occasion, been subsequently sold at a profit!
This book is packed with examples of how, sometimes the most unlikely of artwork becomes fashionable, how the rise of some artists is truly meteoric whilst others flatter to deceive. Influences on the development of the contemporary art market such as the rise of the wealthy and hence high spending Chinese and the museum ambitious Gulf States are discussed together with the workings of the market from the point of view of auctioneers, dealers, collectors and the artists themselves.
I found much in here to fascinate and inform and I certainly consider my knowledge of the contemporary art market significantly augmented. I would say though that parts of this tome are quite dry. For example I was well aware of the shenanigans of the Christies and Sotheby's duopoly before reading this book and felt it was rather over discussed here. However,overall this is a worthwhile read for those interested in the influences behind the higher end of the contemporary art market.
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