The $12 Million Stuffed Shark

The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art

Publisher: Anchor Canada
The $12 Million Stuffed Shark delves into the economics and psychology of the contemporary art world – artists, dealers, auction houses, and wealthy collectors. If it’s true – as so often said – that 85 percent of new contemporary art is bad, why were record prices achieved at auction for works by 131 contemporary artists in 2006 alone, with astonishing new heights reached in 2007? The $12 Million Stuffed Shark explores money, lust, and the self-aggrandizement of possession in an attempt to determine what makes a particular work of art valuable while others are ignored.

In the style of the bestselling Freakonomics, Thompson uses economic concepts to explain the unique practices employed, to great success, in the international contemporary art market. He discusses branding and marketing and how various strategies are tailored to a wealthy clientele, driving a "must-have" culture. Drawing on exclusive interviews with both past and present executives of auction houses and art dealerships, artists, and the buyers who move the market, Thompson launches the reader on a surprising journey of discovery.

From the Hardcover edition.


January 13, 2005, New York

One problem for the agent trying to sell the stuffed shark was the $12 million asking price for this work of contemporary art.* Another was that it weighed just over two tons, and was not going to be easy to carry home. The taxidermy fifteen-foot tiger shark “sculpture” was...
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“An irreverent but expert guide to the beguiling business of contemporary art.” Tim Harford, author of The Undercover Economist and The Logic of Life

“If you read no other book about art in your life, read the one that’s gripped me like a thriller for the past two days. … The $12 Million Stuffed Shark.”
— Richard Morrison, The Times (UK)

“Despite the dizzying extravagance of the world he explores, Thompson’s work remains grounded in hard analysis. And in describing a world that seems insane in its fervour, lust, and escalation, his steady, thorough, and even approach is refreshingly cool.”
The Walrus

From the Hardcover edition.