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When Selling a Diamond Studded Skull You Only Have to Fool Some of the People


The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson

The other day I was casually looking at some works in my favorite gallery in Tel Aviv and the owner came over to me and handed me what he called a “must read.” He handed me, “The $12 Million Dollar Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art” as a gift.

After the first page I was hooked. It was a thriller. It took me into the world where the business of art and the art of business are so intertwined they can’t be separated. Quickly you understand that successful artists are talented actors, street wise politicians, and keen business people who understand the essence of the sale and branding.

Art’s beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but Don Thompson makes you soon realize that there’s a lot more involved when people they are considering investing millions of dollars for, say,…a stuffed shark. Don Thompson understands that in order to sell a porcelain pink panther or a platinum diamond skull with human teeth you better get the branding just right. Don Thompson’s understands 21st century marketing.

Don Thompson takes us into a world of Tracy Emin, Francis Bacon, Jeff Koons Damien Hirst, Christie’s, Sotheby’s, Gagosian, Saatchi, White Cube and Frieze–a world in which so many strive to achieve that even making an effort to join it’s population is highly irrational. A world of auction psychology, the auctioneer’s hammer, and processes often dictated by hearsay, fluff, and gossip. If you ever thought that the primary guide to business success laid in psychology or social psychology–this book is a must read.

WI Thomas, a famous sociologist, once said, “If men define a situation as real than it’s real,..they are real in their consequences.” Don Thompson, in his volume, empirically proves the substance of this statement in the world of art. He’s written a gem.

Indeed, when I get back to NYC and visit the local galleries–I’ll think of this book constantly. For me it unified my cynicism about the marketing of art with my passion for the collection of contemporary art.

Since the book is concerned with the principles of economies, social psychology, and is well-researched I am going to make to required reading in my Fall Cornell class on Organizational behavior and Uncertainty. For the last few years I’ve been taking my NYC interns to the MOMA and trying to impress on them that the art world is sometimes an interesting venue for business lessons. Don Thompson makes these efforts more interesting, more coherent, and more to the point. I think my fall semester will be enriched by his book. Academia, set aside this book is a superb two night thriller.

I recommend it strongly to anyone who’s interested in rationally, irrationally, and the world’s of fads, trends, brands, and idiosyncrasies.



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