Book Review: “The Supermodel and the Brillo Box” – artmarketblog.com
When Tracey Emin’s controversial artwork “My Bed,” which as most of you will know consists of an unmade bed, smashed the auction record for the artist when it sold for a whopping 2.5 million pounds at Christie’s in London on July 1, 2014, it just so happened that I was reading a fantastic book on the art market that explores the inner workings of the often secretive and opaque contemporary art world.
The book in question is The Supermodel and the Brillo Box: Back Stories and Peculiar Economics from the World of Contemporary Art by Don Thompson, author of the much-lauded art market expose The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art which was released in 2007, just before the Crash of 2008 which burst the art market bubble that had produced so many astounding price records.
The Supermodel and the Brillo Box expands on the investigation that Thompson began with his previous book on the art market, adding insight into the events that led to the art market crash of 2008 and the amazing rebound that followed. The book is ambitiously billed as “an inside look at the evolution of the economics and psychology of the contemporary art market,” and it doesn’t disappoint.
What sets Thompson’s book apart is that it is written from the perspective of someone who has no real vested interest in glorifying the art market. Thompson is not an art market professional, he is an economist who currently holds the position of Emeritus Nabisco Brands Professor of Marketing and Strategy at the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto.
If you think a book about the art market written by an economist could only be filled with dull facts and figures, you could not be more wrong. Thompson’s book is filled with tales of intrigue and desire that expose the complex mechanics of the art market, lift the veil on the opaque contemporary art world, and the reveal startling secrets of the art auction scene. Thompson still validates his claims and assertions with hard date, but does so within the context of fascinating and relevant stories.
The title of the book comes from two works of art: the first is Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan’s trophy-style wax sculpture supermodel Stephanie Seymour’s nude torso; and the second is one of Andy Warhol’s renowned “Brillo Boxes.” The case of the Cattelan sculpture offers an intriguing insight into the power of branding and marketing, while the case of the Brillo box tackles the controversial topics of authenticity and appropriation.
According to Thompson, The Supermodel and the Brillo Box “is about the themes that swirl around the top of the art market: about artists, auction houses and dealers, and prices.” If you want to know what motivates art collectors to pursue their trophies with such single-minded determination, why the top contemporary artists are as popular as they are, and how auction houses and art dealers motivate their clients, then this is definitely a must-read book.
Get your copy of The Supermodel and the Brillo Box here
**Nicholas Forrest is a Sydney/London based art market analyst, art consultant and writer. He is the founder of the Art Market Blog (artmarketblog.com) which offers independent commentaries as well as research and analysis on the current art market, and has recently been published in Fabrik magazine, Verve magazine, Visual Art Beat magazine, Australian Art Collector magazine, Art & Investment magazine and many others. Nic has made several radio appearances (both nationally and internationally) as an art market expert and has received press from the likes of the New York Times, Conde Nast Portfolio and Times of London.
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