The REAL ‘Inside Job’- The Art World’s Next Financial Meltdown?

Who's standing on your pile of money?

Last night in Los Angeles, the Oscar for best documentary feature was awarded to the film INSIDE JOB, a chilling tale of the most recent market meltdown orchestrated by the world’s biggest financial institutions. After all the hype of whether Exit Through The Gift Shop would win or not, I began to see a pattern emerging.

While the financial collapse in the last three years has left an unbelievable wake of misery, ruin, and distrust of the ‘engine’ that drives the Western economies, I believe it parallels another disturbing trend, that the art world and the market buyers has been bamboozled, hoodwinked, lied to, cheated and tossed aside like a toy that no longer entertains a child.

It’s a complex issue with many elements and one that I will try to address and explain in the next few posts. But I will say this; the high art market is extremely toxic and may be about to collapse.


The definition of conceptual art is that the idea takes precedence over the material or the aesthetics of the art itself. It has even been claimed that conceptual art is supposed to question the very nature of art.

Here’s a question. Ever heard of the great white shark in formaldehyde? That would be the work of UK artist Damien Hirst, one of the poster childs of the movement. Heard about the huge stainless steel shiny balloon animals? That is the work of American artist Jeff Koons. Both of these men have been adopted and promoted as being the new geniuses behind conceptual art thru the last 20 years.

That may or may not be true. It’s a matter of speculation from people much more educated than I about modern art history. But there has been a growing wave of discontent and mistrust in the high art market, not only over the supposed importance of the previous mentioned artists (and others) contribution to modern art but also over the astronomical prices their works have been commanding in recent auctions in London and New York and the inability for art investors to get their money back. There is a growing doubt as to the true financial and artistic merit attached to these works.

Koons and Hirst may have allowed themselves to become the art world’s equivalent of Mutt and Jeff, the comic strip where the characters are always mixed up in a get rich quick scheme. They have become bloated, pasty versions of themselves while they seclude themselves in their multi million dollar estates, trying harder than ever to appear hip and relevant to a younger demographic through their publicity machine. One has started dressing much like a noted Irish rock star singer with the sunglasses and jewelry while the other has adopted a more conservative look much like the late TV personality Mr. Rogers.

But sadly,  it’s much more than that. One kick in the arse is that these guys don’t even do the art themselves any more (if they ever did). They now have “assistants” doing the majority of the production of their work. So the question begs, are they artists or are they really art designers? How are they different from a fashion label’s head designer? Why do they go about their business treating the work like a corporate brand as opposed to doing business using the atelier/workshop/couture ethic of  the great artists of yesteryear? And who really is dictating the values in the art market and why they may be setting up a bigger financial catastrophe then the one Bernie Madoff triggered?

The answer may be much more appalling than you imagine.

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