The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art
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Acquiring contemporary art is 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. The Supermodel and the Brillo Box follows Don Thompson's 2008 bestseller The $12 Million Stuffed Shark and offers a further journey of discovery into what the Crash of 2008 did to the art market and the changing methods that the major auction houses and dealerships have implemented since then. It describes what happened to that market after the economic implosion following the collapse of Lehman Brothers and offers insights and art-world tales from dealers, auction houses, and former executives of each, from New York and London to Abu Dhabi and Beijing. It begins with the story of a wax, trophy-style, nude upper-body sculpture of supermodel Stephanie Seymour by Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, which sold for $2.4 million to New York über-collector and private dealer Jose Mugrabi, and recounts the story of a wooden Brillo box that sold for $722,500. The Supermodel and the Brillo Box 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 Dhabi, and Beijing; the growing importance of the digital art world; and the shrinking role of the mainstream gallery.
issue was whether a fair could both offer exclusivity for clients of branded galleries and at the same time be welcoming to browsers. VIP lacked Miami Basel elbowing and Darwinian competition between Wall Street and Hollywood types. There were no condescending looks from dealers, no need to wear Prada, no art schmoozing—but also, no interaction with other collectors. A final concern was that VIP did not carry the cachet of a branded fair. No one would brag to friends “I bought this at VIP” the
(Warhol), 62 The Last Supper (2011) (Zeng), 222 Lau, Joseph, 219 Lauder, Ronald, 152 Lazarides, Steve, 110 Le Journal des Arts, 214 Le Rêve (Picasso), 16, 44–5, 70 Lear, Norman, 244 Leavin, Margo, 188 Leavitt, William, 188 Legal Daily, 221 Léger, Henri, 57 Lehman Brothers, 24–5, 96, 162 lending, and auction houses, 130–1 LeWitt, Sol, 183 Leo Castelli Gallery (NYC), 37 Lerner, Ralph, 21 Leslie Hindman Auctioneers, Chicago, 142 Levitt, Ted, 30 Lévy, Dominique, 131, 182, 198–200
director of exhibitions at Hirst’s London gallery, White Cube, describes Hirst’s spot paintings: “They’re incredibly original and counterbalance the decline of originality in the history of painting. It’s taking something that looks machine produced but is actually painted by hand. What we see is not what we see.” This is the generally accepted back story of spot paintings: looks machine made but is not. But that claim is also true of the Howard spots. The Hirst spot by Howard sold at auction
wooden boxes were produced for Hultén several years later, for a 1990 Pop Art exhibition in Russia. Hultén said he was authorized by Warhol to extend the series. The boxes were made by two carpenters at the Malmö Konsthall gallery in Sweden and later exhibited in 1992 at a Bonn museum where Hultén was artistic director. Many of the wooden boxes were later sold. In 1994 the Belgian dealer Ronny van de Velde purchased 40 boxes from Hultén for �640,000 ($992,000). Van de Velde then applied for and
“worldwide one-man Hirst exhibition” titled The Complete Spot Paintings 1986–2011. Gagosian referred to this simultaneous show for one artist as “a historic first.” What motivated the Gagosian spectacular, coming four years after Hirst’s auction betrayal at Sotheby’s? The art world consensus was that Hirst’s dealers still had substantial inventories of his work, many of these spot paintings. More important, Gagosian had a large number of clients who had been unable to resell their Hirst works