Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art
The meteoric rise of the largest unregulated financial market in the world-for contemporary art-is driven by a few passionate, guileful, and very hard-nosed dealers. They can make and break careers and fortunes.
The contemporary art market is an international juggernaut, throwing off multimillion-dollar deals as wealthy buyers move from fair to fair, auction to auction, party to glittering party. But none of it would happen without the dealers-the tastemakers who back emerging artists and steer them to success, often to see them picked off by a rival.
Dealers operate within a private world of handshake agreements, negotiating for the highest commissions. Michael Shnayerson, a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, writes the first ever definitive history of their activities. He has spoken to all of today's so-called mega dealers-Larry Gagosian, David Zwirner, Arne and Marc Glimcher, and Iwan Wirth-along with dozens of other dealers-from Irving Blum to Gavin Brown-who worked with the greatest artists of their times: Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, and more.
This kaleidoscopic history begins in the mid-1940s in genteel poverty with a scattering of galleries in midtown Manhattan, takes us through the ramshackle 1950s studios of Coenties Slip, the hipster locations in SoHo and Chelsea, London's Bond Street, and across the terraces of Art Basel until today. Now, dealers and auctioneers are seeking the first billion-dollar painting. It hasn't happened yet, but they are confident they can push the price there soon.
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The narrative is packed with scrumptious anecdotes and revealing portraits of key players and artists... In this rich, superbly nuanced history, Shnayerson fully demonstrates that he has his finger on the financial pulse of modern art.
Focusing on personalities as much as business development, Shnayerson's writing is conversational and accessible, even for those without deep art knowledge. Fast-paced and eye-opening, this is a wildly entertaining business history.
In Boom, Michael Shnayerson masterfully traces the blaze-like contemporary art market back to what now seem like unassuming origins. He tells how, somewhere along the way, dealers persuaded the rest of the art world that what they were looking at was not as important as why they were looking at it. And the why, as it turns out, was money.
How did the art world-the rarefied, decorous realm of a few hundred in the 1960s-become the art market? Michael Shnayerson penetrates the mysterious conclave of taste, style and money in this sparkling, high-octane account. It's all here and beautifully bound together, from Lucien Freud's gambling debts to the AIDS epidemic to private museums to the magical question of whether the artist makes the dealer or the dealer the artist.
The book is a pleasure to read, lively, smart, and wonderfully informative, full of the big personalities, genius, passion, and skullduggery of the contemporary art world.
Boom reflects better than anything I have read the characters, the motives, and the overall vibe of the contemporary art world.