York’s Schulich School of Business Professor Don Thompson has done it again. As a followup to his 2008 bestselling book The $12 Million Stuffed Shark, Thompson has published The Supermodel and the Brillo Box, a new book about the contemporary art world, which was listed as one of the best non-fiction books of 2014 by Maclean’s magazine.
The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art (Palgrave Macmillan) begins with the story of a wax, trophy-style, nude upper-body sculpture of supermodel Stephanie Seymour by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. That sculpture sold for $2.4 million to New York über-collector and private dealer Jose Mugrabi, but it also recounts the story of a wooden Brillo box that sold for $722,500.
“York University marketing professor and art aficionado Don Thompson explains some of the contemporary art market’s more mysterious turns, including the fact that art is now what a recognized artist says it is, including a $12-million stuffed shark,” writes Brian Bethune in Maclean’s.
Acquiring contemporary art may be about passion and lust, but it is also about branding, about the back story that comes with the art, about the relationship of money and status, and, sometimes, about celebrity. This is what Thompson, an economist and professor emeritus of marketing and strategy, explores in the The Supermodel and the Brillo Box. He looks at the new economic order in the art world that emerged in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and the changing methods major auction houses and dealerships have since implemented.
The book describes what happened to that market following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and offers insights and art-world tales from dealers, auction houses and their former executives from New York and London to Abu Dhabi and Beijing. It looks at the increasing dominance of Christie’s, Sotheby’s and a few über dealers; the hundreds of millions of new museums coming up in cities like Dubai, Abu Dabai and Beijing; the growing importance of the digital art world; and the shrinking role of the mainstream gallery.
Thompson is the author of 11 books and writes on the economics of the art market for such publications as the Times, Harper’s and the Art Economist.