Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Art Shark floods the market

How much would you pay for the corpse of Damien Hirst in formaldehyde?

In case you haven't heard, Damien Hirst, Britain's "most successful" contemporary artist, just staged a staggering successful auction at Sotheby's of his latest work - although it turned out the pieces were actually almost all knock-offs (above) of earlier work (like Jeff Koons, Hirst now supervises several facilities which generate his spot paintings, and spin paintings, and routinely plunk various dead animals in formaldehyde). It wasn't the art that was new - it was the fact that Hirst was circumventing the "art world" and selling his commodities (yes, that's what they are) directly to the public - the obscenely rich public, that is. There was some question as to whether or not the strategy would work - after all, Hirst was essentially flooding a market which dealers have always carefully controlled in order to fluff up prices. The principles of classical economics would lead one to believe that a surfeit of dead sharks (which are hardly distinguishable from each other) would lead to a decline in the price of each. But clearly at least this first gambit was wildly successful (to the tune of $200 M) - the recent boom in museum building has created a whole lotta real estate out there that has to be filled with something (one of these may well turn up at the MFA!). And of course despite its ridiculous price tag, a Hirst still looks cheap next to a decent Old Master. How long this particular party can keep going, however - particularly as the global financial market melts down - is an open question.

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