Your rating(Clear)Rate this item


There was a problem filtering reviews right now. Please try again later.

84 of 85 people found the following review helpful
on October 25, 2008
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...).
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
37 of 38 people found the following review helpful
on September 30, 2008
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.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
83 of 96 people found the following review helpful
on November 1, 2008
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. But if one is trying to get an understanding of all that is going on today in art, its diversity, energy and excitement, you only have to go beyond the `branded galleries" auction houses and take a look at the contemporary galleries and museums in your own city. Art is a commodity but luckily for all of us, it is much more than that.
1010 commentsWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
16 of 17 people found the following review helpful
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. The only thing of which we can all be sure is that the hunt is on, and due to the tremendous explosion in the amount of global wealth and the nature of art as something that can transform someone from being just another rich person into a man or woman of taste and style, the art market (until the last few months) has been on a tear.

Thompson is delving into a reality that nearly all art market observers prefer to either ignore or dress up in fancy concepts: art has become as big a business as any other, and the laws of supply and demand and the role of marketing play just as big a role here as in any other business despite all the indignant insistence that art is "different". Certainly, art plays a role in our lives that cars, DVD players and above-ground swimming pools never will. But nor is it as pure and elevated as many of its participants would like to portray it as being. Indeed, Thompson notes, that attitude actually hurts collectors trying to make sensible and informed decisions both about what they like and what works have value. The more distracted they are by the branding, the less bandwidth they have available to ponder those issues.

Thompson has crafted a compelling narrative that relies more on economics, business practices and human psychology than it does on art history to explain the frenzied contemporary art scene, where values of "wet paint" works (i.e. just completed) by art students can almost double overnight if endorsed by a 'branded' collector. Perhaps most disturbing to me are the insights into the cynical mindset of some artists who now focus as much or more on business success as the creation of the objects themselves. (Obviously, artists have always needed to sell their works in order to create more, but few, I suspect, have ever achieved the kind of affluence that greater numbers are now reaching so early in their career -- at a point when it's still hard to argue that they are part of a new 'canon'.)

If you're looking for insight into the artistic process, this is not the book for you. On the other hand, if you want a straightforward tale of the business side of this market, it's an admirably unbiased and coherent narrative, pulling no punches and yet never tipping over into populist outrage of the "my child could have painted that!" variety. Thompson is no fanatic, but he is, like any good academic, a skeptic -- and skeptics are all too rare in the art market. (After all, skepticism doesn't sell.) Thompson doesn't get confrontational or deliberately provocative, but confines himself to being thoughtful and reflective.

Perhaps the ideal reader is someone who is fascinated by art, and would love to become a collector, at whatever level. There are some explicit tips (never talk to the supercilious gallery girls, always chat up the security guard to get the real insight into the story behind what is hanging on the gallery walls) as well as straightforward explanations of how dealers select which artists they will represent, what the novice can expect at an auction, etc. And the wannabe collector will emerge with a good sense of all the many ways the "artistic industrial complex" will attempt to shape his or her views, such as (paid for) scholarly essays in museum and auction house catalogs.

A valuable addition to the still-limited ranks of the books taking an unbiased look at the clo.sed circle of the art market. Recommended in conjunction with Seven Days in the Art World, which combines this kind of perspective with the creative dimension.
11 commentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
17 of 19 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2009
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. Whew...how 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. No mention of the Chinese villages which churn out copies or the growing leagues of accomplished Chinese painters - maybe in the sequel.)

Contemporary art is, or was, a fast-growing market. In one auction, Thompson notes, a Francis Bacon painting at £5.5 million would have paid for two Monets, one Pissarro and a Cezanne auctioned the night before.

Meanwhile, in an effort to beat the two top houses, Phillips de Pury has focused on contemporary art and sold more 21st century art that the other two houses combined.

Think these financiers who buy art are so smart? Thompson says that a
Jeff Koons piece which brought $4 million at Sotheby's in November 2006 could have been picked up from a dealer a few blocks away for $2.25 million.

Does art make sense as an investment? No. "Eighty percent of the art bought from local dealers and local art fairs will never resell for as much as the original purchase price."

"In the overwhelming majors of cases, art is neither a good investment nor an efficient investment vehicle."

Fewer than half the modern and contemporary artists in a Christie's or Sotheby's auction catalogue 25 years ago are still offered at any major auction, says Thompson.

While I can't claim comprehensive knowledge of art books published in the last year, I would hazard a guess that this is one of the clearer explanations of what goes on in the world of studios, galleries and museums.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on August 9, 2010
This book should be read by every single person hoping to achieve the title of "artist". It is an extremely in-depth and thoroughly researched book about the goings on in the economics of contemporary art, and I must say as a former art student and current struggling artist, it was eye-opening to say the least. Some critical reviews knock the book for its limited scope and failing to recognize other ways in which art can be financially lucrative for artists, but that's not what this book is meant to do. The book shows how the artists who are seen to be "at the top of their game", selling work in the million dollar range, actually get to that point. Often, it has very little to do with their actual art. The book is very sobering, even depressing at times, but the information it imports to those who wish to break into the world of contemporary art is absolutely indispensable. Most of the critical reviews complain that the book focuses too much on the business end of things, but the point it makes is that, when one reaches the apex of the contemporary art world, the business of art is far more important than the art itself. It's straightforward and easy to understand, but be warned: it doesn't pull any punches, and tells it like it is. If you're an artist, this book is sure to influence how you view the world of contemporary art, whether it crushes your dreams or hardens your determination. Either way, it deserves to be read.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on August 23, 2009
1. It's enjoyable.

2. Probably not deliberately, but the book feeds your suspicion that at least some of what is happening is the Tulip Mania of our time.

3. Quite aside from the greater fool aspect of the thing, the book brings up serious issues of what exactly very very very rich people are supposed to do with their wealth.

4. The book is a detailed examination of what really fuels art prices. For example (according to the author) art critics have almost no influence on prices.

5. The book has interesting insights on the relationships of auction houses to dealers and art fairs . . .

6. . . . and interesting insights on the psychology of bidding at auction.

7. It is a good good place to pick up names of artists worth checking out. I found myself going to Google Images many times to call up the art work of someone mentioned, and I found several painters of interest and at least one who made my heart leap up. (And only when the book was over did I realize the book made absolutely no mention of several of my favorites, including Philip Guston and Anselm Kiefer.)

8. What the book doesn't do, and what the book isn't supposed to do, is give you some understanding (aside from the economics of the thing) of what the people who buy Andy Warholl and Jeff Koons really think and feel about the art. And if they love it, why? Why?

9. No book is supposed to do everything. Did I mention the book is enjoyable?
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
VINE VOICEon September 19, 2008
An excellent overview of the internal convoluted workings of the contemporary international art market. If you want to know what now goes into the pricing and marketing of big-time works of art, buy this book.

In the spirit of "Freakonomics", Don Thompson trains his economist's eye on the financial side of the current world of high-end art. Happily his book is written in a fashion to be understood, rather than as an academic exercise to befuddle.

Those seeking a recent book by a passionate collector of contemporary art may also wish to read Giuseppe Panza's "Memories of a Collector."
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
Let me preface by stating that I have taught art/sculpture at the university level and have struggled to become a professional artist. I have many volumes on art. art history, techniques, theory, etc. But until I read this book, I was still an art "virgin." I walked around with many misconceptions about how the art world really functioned. I had the mistaken notion that fine art would ultimately triumph over shlock art. As John Belushi would say: "But..NOOOOOOOOO!" Read how top galleries and auction houses manipulate the market. Learn how art is sold and how artists sell their "souls." If you want
a graduate school education in how the art world works today, take this course. But beware. You might just lose your comfortable illusions.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 3, 2010
Don Thompson has written a tremendous book on a subject that many of us simply cannot fathom--why are certain so-called pieces of art, which aren't even aesthetically pleasing, worth so much darn money. Read this book and Professor Thompson will explain, and to his credit, he will acknowledge that to a certain extent there is no rational reason. The book is extremely well organized into relatively short chapters, with each covering a topic that is integral to his thesis. Thompson writes extremely well, and demontrates that he has a genuine interest in sharing his knowledge with the reader. If you are curious about the subject, do not hesitate to add this to your cart.
0CommentWas this review helpful to you?YesNoSending feedback...
Thank you for your feedback.
Sorry, we failed to record your vote. Please try again
Report abuse
     
 
Customers who viewed this also viewed
Seven Days in the Art World
Seven Days in the Art World by Sarah Thornton (Paperback - November 2, 2009)
$10.83

The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty
The Value of Art: Money, Power, Beauty by Michael Findlay (Paperback - April 25, 2014)
$13.51

33 Artists in 3 Acts
33 Artists in 3 Acts by Sarah Thornton (Hardcover - November 3, 2014)
$17.95
 
     

Send us feedback

How can we make Amazon Customer Reviews better for you?
Let us know here.