Book review – Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market


Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market, by VIP Art Fair Director Noah Horowitz (available on Amazon USA and UK.)

Princeton University Press writes: Art today is defined by its relationship to money as never before. Prices of living artists’ works have been driven to unprecedented heights, conventional boundaries within the art world have collapsed, and artists now think ever more strategically about how to advance their careers. Artists no longer simply make art, but package, sell, and brand it.

Noah Horowitz exposes the inner workings of the contemporary art market, explaining how this unique economy came to be, how it works, and where it’s headed. He takes a unique look at the globalization of the art world and the changing face of the business, offering the clearest analysis yet of how investors speculate in the market and how emerging art forms such as video and installation have been drawn into the commercial sphere.

By carefully examining these developments against the backdrop of the deflation of the contemporary art bubble in 2008, Art of the Deal is a must-read book that demystifies collecting and investing in today’s art market.


Matthew Barney, Cremaster4. Photograph Michael James O’Brien © Matthew Barney

Money and art. What’s not to like? Most of the works i write about on the blog have very little to do with art speculation, auction houses and investments funds but that doesn’t mean that i’m not curious about the myths and mysteries of the art market. I’ve read a few books on the subject over the past few years. Sarah Thornton’s Seven Days in the Art Worldwas widely praised in art magazines but the author’s palpable apprehension of causing any discomfort to the very world she belongs to was a bit off-putting. Don Thompson’s The 2 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Artis far more candid and fearless. Its purpose, i think, was to be a kind of Freakonomics of the art world. The book sometimes went for the spectacular and the obvious but it was entertaining, informative, unconceited and a nice introduction to the subject. Ben LewisDVD The Great Contemporary Art Bubble DVD(trailer this way!)wasn’t afraid to ruffle a few feathers and to use sensationalism as an excuse to engage viewers into though-provoking reflections.

Art of the Deal is in a class of its own. Like Seven Days in the Art World, it was written by an insider. Noah Horowitz is a member of the faculty of the Sotheby’s Institute of Art in New York and the Director of the VIP Art Fair – the first-ever exclusively online art fair. Horowitz, however, doesn’t confuse respect for the art world with blatant kowtowing. He even manages to be critical without falling into the cynical trap.

The merits of the book do not stop there.

It opens where every recent book about the contemporary art market starts: Damien Hirst and an auction that has its own wikipedia entry. But it then ventures into territories left untouched by other authors of similar essays. Instead of talking Murakami paintings and Koons sculptures, Horowitz approaches more ‘immaterial’ genres which, despite their popularity in art galleries and biennales, tend to get far less attention from collectors and auction houses: video and ‘experiential art’ (performances, installations, action art… any art form that focuses on experience and social interaction.)


Philippe Parreno, Invisibleboy, 2010. Film Still. © 2010 Gautier Deblonde


Philippe Parreno, Invisibleboy, 2010. Film Still. Courtesy of Air de Paris, Courtesy of Centre National des Arts Plastiques, © 2010 Philippe Parreno

I learnt something at almost every single page of the book: the way videos and their ancillary goods drive the art market, how Barney financed the Cremaster Cycle, issues of content ownership, the rise of the collector’s box, the ‘experientialization’ of the global art world, the difference between prestige buying and investment in art for financial return, what collectors acquire exactly when they purchase a “constructed situation” by Tino Sehgal, an artist who doesn’t create tangible works, doesn’t issue press releases, refuses to throw opening parties and doesn’t allow photo documentation of his work.


Rirkrit Tiravanija, Pad Thai, 1991-96

Horowitz doesn’t generalize, nor does he simplify facts. His conclusions are prudent and well-balanced. He bring economics and art together like no one has done before (as much as i can tell.) Perhaps more importantly, the author doesn’t live in an hermetically closed contemporary art bubble. He has read Geert Lovink, he (briefly) takes into account artists who -whether by choice or fate- do not sell their works, drives parallels with the commercial music and film industry, doesn’t throw daggers at ubuweb and even sees youtube and other online video platforms as ‘providing new opportunities and challenges for future developments of exhibiting and collecting standards.;

Art of the Deal is dense, impeccably researched, its language is clear, its insider stories come fast and numerous.

Horowitz doesn’t touch upon the delicate issue of the market for new media art but my next review might have more about the subject.