$12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark | Don Thompson

Summary of: $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses
By: Don Thompson


Embark on a journey through the mystifying world of contemporary art and auction houses in the summary of Don Thompson’s ‘$12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art and Auction Houses’. This book decipher the complex factors shaping the contemporary art market, such as the significance of branding, the role of influential dealers, and the power of prestigious auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s. Delve into the fascinating stories behind some of the art world’s most intriguing personalities and examine how the prices and values of art are determined, often leading to mind-boggling sales amidst unpredictable circumstances.

The Power of Branding in Contemporary Art

Contemporary art is a world guided by branding, where established artists are separated from emerging ones solely by their branding. The market economy has influenced the purchasing behavior of high-end art consumers, and branding shapes their decisions. Prestigious auction houses like Christie’s and Sotheby’s command higher prices for pieces they offer, branded dealers carry works other galleries don’t have, and branded collectors provide immediate credibility to the artwork they buy. People buy contemporary art because it is an expression of status, just like they buy a Mercedes for its quality, value, and status. Controversial, subjective, and indefinable, contemporary art pushes the boundaries of taste and sensibility. Despite its appeal, contemporary art generally is a poor investment. The only predictable factor in this world is its unpredictability.

The Power of Branded Dealers in the Art World

In the contemporary art world, branded dealers hold immense power. These savvy, wealthy salespeople use their marketing expertise to cultivate relationships with collectors and promote their artists. Branded dealers guide and promote artists’ careers by placing their work with collectors and skillfully deploying public relations and advertising. Well-known dealers like Gagosian enjoy such a high level of trust from their clients that their patrons often buy works based solely on their recommendations, without even seeing them.

Being branded means that a museum must have in its collection the major artists of a particular era, which promotes their artwork’s legitimacy. While superstar dealers only represent a tiny fraction of contemporary artists, most new artists typically follow several arduous steps to try to gain recognition. After initially showing their work in small studios, artists hope that mainstream dealers will discover their work and arrange larger gallery shows. If that succeeds, then galleries in other cities may exhibit the work, and it could crop up in art publications.

The starting point in setting a price for the work of a new artist is the dealer’s reputation in the art world. Branded and mainstream galleries are most prevalent in New York and London, the acknowledged capitals of contemporary art. While galleries do succeed in other cities, many artists prefer to work in New York and London to gain maximum exposure to influential galleries and wealthy collectors. It’s worth noting that most contemporary artists struggle to make a living, with only about 400 of the 80,000 artists living in New York and London earning a significant income from their art.

The Art of Wealth

This summary follows the lives of three famous contemporary artists: Damien Hirst, Andy Warhol, and Jeff Koons. Exploring their techniques and notable works, this piece highlights how they achieved fame and immense wealth in the art world. Damien Hirst’s rotting cow’s head and shark preserved in formaldehyde gained significant attention, fetching millions of dollars in auction sales. Similarly, Andy Warhol’s pop art featuring famous figures continues to sell for millions, even after his death. Jeff Koons, known for making attention-grabbing sculptures, once worked on Wall Street and treats his art as a commodity to promote. With fascinating insights such as how some highly-regarded clients bid without even needing a paddle, this captivating summary is a must-read for art enthusiasts and anyone curious about the art market.

Inside the Art Auction Industry

Christie’s and Sotheby’s dominate the high-end art auction industry, drawing capacity crowds with the help of glossy catalogs and poetic descriptions. While art is not considered a good or efficient investment, owning rare and treasured works is a status symbol among the rich. Auction houses transport and store pieces, investigate authenticity, and publicize them for sellers and buyers. The auction specialists are key players and often advise high-end collectors who may not trust their own judgment. Preferential treatment is extended to wealthy bidders, including transporting collections to foreign countries for private showings.

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