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The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art Hardcover – September 16, 2008

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Editorial Reviews


"Don Thompson has written, by far, the best book on the economics of the contemporary art market yet written."--Felix Salmon,
"Don Thompson provides the single best guide to both the anthropology and the economics of contemporary art markets. This book is fun and fascinating on just about every page.” --Tyler Cowen, New York Sun

"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…it’s called the $12 Million Stuffed Shark.” --Richard Morrison, The Times (London)

"…it’s lucid, well researched and, while carefully balanced, manages to retain a sharp edge ." --Telegraph UK

"A new book by an economist named Don Thompson entitled $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art ought to be required reading for collectors intending to wade into well publicized contemporary art auctions…" --The

"[An] informative an occasionally hilarious look at the surreal contemporary art market...  A clear-headed approach to a frequently high-pitched issue." --Kirkus


About the Author

Don Thompson teaches marketing and economics in the MBA program at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto. He has  taught at the London School of Economics and at Harvard Business School. He lives in London and Toronto.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan (September 16, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230610226
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230610224
  • Product Dimensions: 6.4 x 1.1 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (93 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #349,643 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

86 of 87 people found the following review helpful By Reich Claude on October 25, 2008
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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...).
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37 of 38 people found the following review helpful By D. Moulton on September 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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83 of 96 people found the following review helpful By Kcolorado on November 1, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By S. McGee TOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on December 8, 2008
Format: Hardcover
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.
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