It looks like Damien Hirst, one of the most market-savvy artists of his generation (or any, for that matter), has done it again. Just weeks after he set a single-artist sales record for an auction at Sotheby’s, raising $200 million over two days, it looks like he sold at the very top of the market. The New York art market has always been tightly coupled to the Manhattan financial markets, and, as the wsj put it recently, “As wealth evaporates and a premium is placed on liquidity, prices will suffer. Wall Street’s problems, rippling elsewhere, will hurt Manhattan property and art alike.”
Meanwhile, I’ve just finished The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, the best book about the economics of contemporary art that I’ve read. It’s by Don Thompson, a professor at the Schulich School of Business at York. Thompson’s argument is an excellent antidote to the sniffing Robert Hughes, who recently called Hirst’s work “absurd” and “tacky”. Thompson’s argument, in a nutshell, is that high-priced contempory art is *the* status good amongst the seriously wealthy, there is nothing that will generate as much status and recognition as even a mid-range piece from Damien Hirst.
But the sorts of people who want the status these works give them also have, almost by definition, a great deal of status anxiety. Enter the branded dealers and the branded auction houses who reduce that anxiety by subsituting their taste for that of their client.
There’s much more. If this stuff interests you in the slightest, pick up Don Thompson’s book.