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I just finished reading the book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson, a detailed overview of the art world from the perspectives of gallerists, auction houses, collectors and more. Sometimes snarky (very clear warnings are given to new-to-the-game collectors who think that buying fresh art from art school grads will result in later profits), sometimes awed (by collectors such as Charles Saatchi), Thompson maintains his truthful tone throughout the book. I felt as if I was getting inside information that most people weren’t privy to–an internship in a book.

After reading two books about the art sphere I feel as if I need a break: even the people who are most closely involved with auctions and the art trade can’t fully explain why a Picasso goes for $78 million at auction–it is difficult to extrapolate on assumptions that paintings are worth that much after a certain point, since the foundation is so unstable. Regardless, for paintings under about $30 million, the price scales are easier to comprehend, and the various stories that Thompson provides about the art trade are engaging.

A few fun facts:
1. Le peau de l’ours was the first art fund (like a stock fund, but with its managers betting that art will gain value in the future instead), and it was wildly successful in the beginning of the 20th century. There are two competing theories for the reason behind the name: either it was named for the bearskin hanging on the wall in their office or it was named for an old french folktale in which hunters sold the skin of the bear before catching the bear itself, a tongue-in-cheek statement about what they were doing (and my preferred theory).

2. Santiago Serra, a Spanish/Mexican artist, is famous for his bold artistic moves: on top of his decision to burn down the gallery in which he was showing as a form of protest towards its commercial orientation, he once traded prostitutes heroin in exchange for the right to tattoo a line down the center of their back and photograph it. He also barred the entrance to the Lisson gallery in London with metal grates, so that the upper class gentry that flocked to his exhibition could feel the sting of being excluded as the masses did each day. Another work was proposed at the Kunsthalle in Vienna, where he wanted to strip all of the museum employees to the waist (from head curator to janitor) and display them in a progression of skin tones from dark to light as a commentary about the relationship between privilege and skin tone.

Damien Hirst’s The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, for which the book was named, sold for $12 Million (reportedly) to Steve Cohen.

I loved this book, and no, I don’t own any kind of copyright to it.