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Art for Money's Sake, Money for Art's Sake,
This review is from: The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art (Paperback)
Whilst the art industry traditionally shrouded the artwork behind a transcendental aesthetic fetishism which rendered redundant any notion of use value, the contemporary market has abstracted this onto a purely economic level. Art's value is now not only shorn of any relation to its production or other commodities, but also to those of other artworks.
Thompson provides an insightful investigation into the mechanics of the art market, illuminating the exponential process of increasing sums of money being exchanged for artworks, setting new sales records on a regular basis over recent years. To explore this phenomenon the book reflects on the relationship between artists, galleries, auction houses and collectors, focusing on recent transactions, and some of the major players and artworks involved, with a particular emphasis on the central role of the major auction houses, Sotheby's and Christies, in setting standards of financial value for artworks.
The importance of the book lies in the fact that it reveals that contemporary art production and consumption have little to do with promoting reflective or challenging ideas through the work itself, or has any basis in qualitative values held by either the public, or the industry itself. It is is shame then, that at points in the text, Thompson derides the work of various YBA artists as being substantially of less value than works from earlier historical periods. Asserting subjective judgements of this kind contradicts the journalistic neutrality the book generally projects, and adds nothing to the information it presents.
Perhaps the book could have benefited by relating the art market to the parallel recent developments in investment finance and consumerism to reveal wider social trends taking place, and the interrelated notions of growth, risk management and conspicuous consumption, that fuel and regulate contemporary global economies. But overall it is an informative enough view of the interdependent relationships between aesthetics, investment and consumption within a traditionally discreet commodity based industry.
Interestingly since the books publication the art market has yet again evolved to another level. Damien Hirst's Sept 2008 Sotheby's auction 'Beautiful Inside My Head Forever', recomposed the balance between artist, gallery and auction house into a new alignment, suggesting a new future economic paradigm for the high end players in the market, and perhaps even a starting point for a second volume!