User:ThomasW/Notes The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

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Thompson, Don (2008) The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, Palgrave Macmillan

Put the branding and the publicity together and the shark must be art, and the price must not be unreasonable. , page2

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? Page3

Charles Saatchi, when asked if refurbishing the shark would rob it of , its meaning as art, responded "Completely." So what is more important—the origi, " nal artwork or the artist's intention? Page3

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. Page 4

Kirsten Ward, who is a , physician and psychologist, says that art has the greatest impact when it makes the , thinking part of the brain talk to the feeling part. Great work speaks clearly, while . , more trivial work does what critics call "going dead." " page6

Jerry Saltz of the Village Voice offers a rule of thumb: 85 percent of new contemporary art is bad. Most of the art world agree . with the percentage, but disagree on how any particular work should be ranked. , page6

One of the best books in the field, Brandon Taylor's Contemporary Art, is sub, titled Art Since 1970. That is also the definition used by Christie's, who place earlier . , work of the 1950s and '60s in a "20th Century Sale." Sotheby's defines as "early con" temporary" art produced between 1945 and 1970, and post-1970 art as "late con, temporary." "Old Masters" is art of the nineteenth century and earlier. "Modern " . art" encompasses the twentieth century up to 1970, and includes Abstract Expres, sionism and Pop Art. Impressionist art overlaps the nineteenth and twentieth cen. turies and is auctioned as a separate category, or as "Impressionist and Modern." , Page 10

contemporary art is non-traditional page10

The MoMA brand offers buyer reassurance. A work of art that was once shown at MoMA, or was part . , of the MoMA collection, commands a higher price because of its provenance. , page13

Art world practices change when a branded player is involved. The price a . dealer charges for work by a new artist is based on the reputation of the gallery and the size of the work rather than any measure of its quality. No artist is actually ever . referred to as new; they are called "emerging," which describes where the artist is " coming from, not where she is going. Emerging is an art world term that means , . unknown, and in a relative sense, not expensive. ,

Page13-14


Strange as it may seem, it is the dealer branding, and , , substitution of the dealer's choice and judgment for the collector's, that add value. , Larry Gagosian's clients can simply substitute his judgment or that of his gallery page14

Is the polisher a utilitarian object or one transformed into minimalist art by being presented in an aesthetic setting? The auction catalogue entry described it as "addressing social class and gender roles as well as consumerism." Koons produced it as art, and Sotheby's offered and , sold it as art. Page14

Look at a listing of major galleries from a ten-year-old art magazine like Frieze, and note that half no longer exist. Inspect . ten-year-old evening sale catalogues from Christie's or Sotheby's and you will find that half the artists are no longer being offered in evening auction sales page 25


In the end, the question "what is judged to be valuable contemporary art" is , " determined first by major dealers, later by branded auction houses, a bit by mu, , seum curators who stage special shows, very little by art critics, and hardly at all by , , buyers. High prices are created by branded dealers promoting particular artists, by , a few artists successfully promoting themselves, and by brilliant marketing on the , part of branded auction houses. Page 26


The architecture is referred to as "white cube." This featureless environment is meant to reinforce the idea that what is being viewed is "art," and that galleries are elitist. One example of white cube de" . sign is Larry Gagosian's gallery in London, a renovated vehicle repair garage. The , . space is so modernistic that when Gagosian opened, critics said he faced little fi, nancial risk; should the gallery location fail, the space would make a fine nightclub, . Page 27


use of the term "dealer" elicits complaints from—well, from dealers. Some , . dealers insist on being called a gallerist, because "dealer" implies they practice a , " form of trade, or are in the business for money, . Page 27

The art trade is the least transparent and least regulated major commercial activity in the world. . Page27

That is disruptive innovation. In an art market where well-known artists gravitate to superstar dealers, other dealers offer sculptures made of frozen blood or paintings made with dung or featuring graffiti to redefine what contemporary art can be, in the hope of , achieving a dominant position in that newly defined segment. Page30

Being with a branded dealer allows the artist to hang out with other artists at the top of the food chain. Like other profes. sionals, artists are very status conscious. Until artists get such representation, they . , don't often get to hang out. Page 30

"When you pay high for the priceless, you acquire it cheaply." Duveen shipped hundreds of , " art works to his wealthy clients unsolicited, so they , page 31

, Leo Castelli was the most influential contemporary art dealer Lein the world. Collectors talked about acquiring "a Castelli," rather than a Johns or . " one of his other gallery artists. Page 34

The brand gave clients the confidence that neither the artwork nor its price need ever be questioned. Only a few art dealers in each generation ever manage to . build a brand that adds both trust and value to what they sell. Age34

The answer is, collectors who trust their dealer in the same way they trust their investment advisor. It's the idea of buying art with the ears rather than the eyes, of buying the , artist's expected future value. Selling this way is one of the defining characteristics . of the superstar dealer. Page36

free. The name comes from a series of essays by Brian O'Doherty, "Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Page36

When an artist is hot, the economist's concept of supply and demand does not , apply. If the artist can create enough work to show simultaneously at several galleries and art fairs, the greater buzz produces higher prices page 39

The combination of artists seeking dealers and money seeking art provides an umbrella under which these dealers can open. Some will evolve to handling better art; most will survive a few . years and disappear. Page43

Gallerist Mary Boone said, only , partly in jest, that her strategy with non-productive artists was to pay large ad, vances to encourage them to develop expensive tastes. "Get the artist to buy ex. pensive houses and have expensive girlfriends and expensive wives. That is what . drives them." Page 46

Hirst's titles are an integral part of marketing his work, and much of the , meaning flows from the title. If the shark were just called Shark, the viewer might . well say, "Yes, it certainly is a shark," and move on. Calling it The Physical Impossi, , " . bility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living forces viewers to create a meaning. The title produced as much discussion as the work. Page 63

Hirst's shark was not the first. A man named Eddie Saunders displayed a . golden hammerhead shark in his JD electrical shop in Shoreditch in 1989, two , years before Hirst. In 2003 Saunders' shark was put on display in the Stuckism In. ' ternational Gallery in East London under the title A Dead Shark Isn't Art. Stuckists are an international movement encompassing forty countries; they are against conceptual art like sharks, and say they are also against the anti-art art trend. , page63

Artist Dinos Chapman called the skull a work of genius—not the art, the marketing. , What does all this tell us? First, that it may today be unimportant whether , work is created by the actual hand of a famous artist, as long as the branded artist , has conceptual input and the work is associated with his name. Damien Hirst's suc. cess rests on a strong brand and a quality-controlled manufacturing operation. A . spot painting signed by Hirst has great value; one by his artisan Rachel does not. Also, uniqueness in art may not be as important as has been thought. The second . version of the shark produced a very high price. Page70

One Christie's auctioneer shrugged when asked about values and said: "Would I buy a Hirst? No. But we don't dictate taste, the market creates it—we . , just auction the art." Page71

It is a great paradox of our times that visual culture should be vanishing even as the art market soars. Abstract concepts take precedence over what the eye sees. Artists' names matter ever more, and the art to which they are attached ever less. Souren Melikian, art journalist , page73

Many of Warhol's critics have said the soup cans were his most important contribution to contemporary art, that once the concept of the can went from the shelf , to the gallery wall "You would never see an ad in the same way, ever again." The " soup cans were the beginning of the artistic concept of commodification. Page75

The Factory, implying that art , could be produced on an assembly line, like commercial products. Paul Morrissey, , . a filmmaker at The Factory, called it The Andy Warhol Industrial Complex. , page 76

"Paintings are too hard; the things I want to show are mechanical." Warhol under" stood the authentication problems caused by his contracting-out: "I think it would be great if more people took up silkscreens so that no one would know whether my picture was mine or somebody else's." Pafe76

f Jeff Koons' work is about class struggle, I am Maria of Romania." Historian ' , " Robert Pincus-Witten said, "Jeff recognizes that works of art in a capitalist culture , inevitably are reduced to the condition of commodity. What Jeff did was say, 'Let's . , short-circuit the process. Let's begin with the commodity.'" . Page 82

The most famous flight of catalogue-entry fancy was Sotheby's comparison of a Warhol to a Renaissance painting of the martyrdom of St. Sebastian. T. . The important caveat to every catalogue description, often overlooked by collectors, is that it is not a scholarly , , essay, but rather a subtle advertisement for the art work. 2x page 107

As financial arrangements increase in complexity, auction house staff now find , art expertise less valuable than the skills of investment bankers. Dominique Levy, . former head of Christie's private sales and now a dealer in New York, says: "In the , past [specialists] had to learn their trade, to really know how to look at the painting , and price it in the current market…today specialists have to know about guarantees and financials and interest rates and the cost of every step of marketing." Cus" tomer contact persons are now called specialists, rather than experts. When a , . visitor asks an exhibition attendant about a work, the attendant is instructed to an, swer, "Just a moment, I will call our specialist-in-charge." , page113

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. Three . dealers arrived after lunch. Auction house humor about death is such that an auc. tion specialist in New York is reported to have once told a stunned audience that he was a partner in Murder, Incorporated, a subsidiary of Sotheby's, active during , , , slow sales periods. Page115


Auction specialists, like all marketing professionals, understand that buying , , behavior is determined in part by the group to which an individual aspires. A bid. der may hope to attain visible membership in the group "owners of important art," or may seek membership on a museum board through donation of an important painting. A hedge fund manager may bid for a work that will assure he is seen by his own reference group as both cultured and wealthy. A foreign bidder may covet a . highly recognizable work that conveys status in her own country because it is coveted in the West. . Page1118

The longer the bidding, the , less significant the aesthetic value and the more important rivalry and competition. Page120

Economic theory suggests that the amount of money in each case should be the same. Value is value, whether you are buying or selling, and whatever the start. , , ing point. Intuition says the amounts will differ; more money will be demanded to . give up the trip (or a painting) than was paid for it, because the reference point has , changed. Now that the trip is in hand, and possession is real, there is regret in giv, , ing it up. The logic of auction buyers who bid way over their limit is: "I do not want to wake up tomorrow thinking that for one more bid it could have been mine." Page125

Why are reserves secret? Auction house specialists say there are two reasons. One is that the work would otherwise have to open at the re. serve price, resulting in fewer bids, fewer bidders, and less excitement. The second , , , . is that if bidders knew the reserve, they might refuse to bid, wait for the painting to , , be passed, and approach the auction house or the consignor after the auction to , negotiate a private sale. Page126

At auctions new values are assigned and desire is fetishized. Jerry Saltz, art critic pave131

Why are reserves secret? Auction house specialists say there are two reasons. One is that the work would otherwise have to open at the re. serve price, resulting in fewer bids, fewer bidders, and less excitement. The second , , , . is that if bidders knew the reserve, they might refuse to bid, wait for the painting to , , be passed, and approach the auction house or the consignor after the auction to , negotiate a private sale. Page136

The job of the artist is always to deepen the mystery. Even within the most beautiful landscape, in the trees, under the leaves the insects are eating each other; violence is a part of life. Francis Bacon, artist , page145

Fairs present a terrible environment in which to view art; they have been described as "the best example of seeing art in the worst way." The setting and crowds " are not conducive to contemplating work. The work is random and juxtaposed, . with no sense of curatorial involvement. The lighting is always excessively bright, . designed for crowd safety rather than art viewing. . Page172


before the opening, dealers leave their stands as the vettors inspect each object. The , . important factor in assessing contemporary art is "show worthiness," pafe173

It is easier to appreciate art when what is required is not an understanding of art history, just your memory of a recent article , about high auction prices. Pafge178


Artists have to accept art choices driven by status or investment, with the importance of a work of art often based on the size of the collector's bank account. Page 179

f the market economy does not always succeed in rewarding merit, should the , government fill the gap by subsidizing artists? Those who have studied the economics of culture agree it should, because the arts offer economic externalities— , benefits that accrue to the public at large, not just to people who own art. Art , . Page179

museums attract tourists, and help produce desirable cities that attract investment. , But then who should be paid, and for what? , page180

Robert Storr expresses this expectation well. When asked, "What have we a right to expect from art right now?," his response , " was, "What does art have a right to expect from us right now?" Page180

We actually know a fair amount about the relationship between subsidies and motivation. There is a well-developed psychological literature on the effect known as the "hidden cost of rewards." The theory says that rewarding highly motivated persons to undertake a task actually reduces their intrinsic motivation. It suggests . that rewards related to output—for example, selling a painting—motivate more , output, while subsidies that simply reward effort may decrease output. This implies . that some government grants to artists might have the perverse effect of limiting creativity rather than promoting it. Page181

The real problem is the psychologically asymmetric way that the value of art and the value of money are viewed. A painting that is deaccessioned and sold . from the museum's holdings is considered a loss. Members of the public and the . art press bemoan that loss, while not viewing new acquisition funds from the sale , as a gain. Page185

You can export Disneyland by building lots of Disneylands in different cities around the world, but the Louvre can't be repro, duced. Is the Louvre a museum or a brand name to be franchised?" Page187

What few art professionals seem to want to admit is that the art world we are living in today is a new, highly active, unprincipled one of art fakery. Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art page201

the low price for a forgery that almost no one can discern conclusive evidence that the value of art is not entirely about aesthetics and beauty, but also about investment , and status? If a buyer loves the work, why not a higher price? , page 204

Art historians have always held that an original painting has a special "aura," invisible but real, which a fake lacks. But if it is not possible for an auction special, . ist to distinguish the reproduction from the original, or detect the aura, then there , , must be something besides the aesthetic aspect that makes the original more valuable. Page205

What is the value of a "Damien Hirst" spin painting created after hours by his technician Rachel, with Hirst's knowledge but without his inspection or signature? Pave205

An Old Master painter such as Rembrandt had many apprentice artists at work in his studio. The apprentices prepared the canvas and painted much of the picture, with , Rembrandt doing the face, hands, and other difficult features. As long as Rem, , . brandt's hand was responsible for a portion of the total, the work was considered , authentic. Page205

Marcel Duchamp reinterpreted the notion of authenticity with the manufactured objects he purchased and signed—his idea was that anything can be a work of art. The implication is that art can be any object presented in a . gallery with a title: artistic content and skill are optional. . Page205

Art in America, Frieze, and Art Forum pay as little as $200 for a freelance review. Page209

e traditional process of building a museum collection was to allow one generation to select the best works of the preceding generation and donate them for the benefit of generations to come. The underlying idea was that collecting art less . than thirty or forty years old would reflect fads rather than convey historical sig nificance. When MoMA was founded in New York in 1929, the concepts of "mu, seum" and "modern" were still thought to he incompatible. page219-220

The success of the Bilbao Guggenheim triggered a craze for global art tourism, with museum architecture suddenly as im, portant as museum content. Page225

The value of art often has more to do with artist, dealer, or auction-house branding, and with col, , , lector ego, than it does with art. T, . Page228

If a buyer pays $140 million for a Jackson Pollock, the work is by definition a masterpiece and the artist belongs on , the wall of every status-seeking collector page228

If he goes more than a couple of years without a major gallery show, or is dropped by his , gallery and not picked up by one of equal status within three months, sell fast. , pafe248

If I were going to steal one, which would it be?" Most people have thought more about , " imaginary theft than about connoisseurship. Once you have circled the room, . come back and spend thirty seconds looking at the object of your criminal lust and try to understand why you chose it. And when you visit a fair or a gallery, don't . , look at new art for more than half an hour at a time. You cannot absorb that many . images and still make judgments. Page249