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The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art Paperback – April 13, 2010

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan Trade; 1 edition (April 13, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0230620590
  • ISBN-13: 978-0230620599
  • Product Dimensions: 9.2 x 6.6 x 0.7 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 11.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (69 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #26,257 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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…"

"[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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Customer Reviews

If you're interested in the workings contemporary art market, this is the book to get.
L. Jade
I greatly enjoyed the book, and found it in accord with my previous readings and intuitions of art world economics.
The book has interesting insights on the relationships of auction houses to dealers and art fairs . . . 6.
E. Goldstein

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

78 of 79 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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35 of 36 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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79 of 92 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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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Tom Groenfeldt on January 14, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
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. 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.
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