Ben Lewis stands outside of Christie’s.
LONDON.- The contemporary art boom is now over, but between 2003 and Autumn 2008 the world witnessed a craze for collecting contemporary art unprecedented in history.
During the last frenzied year of this boom, art critic and film-maker Ben Lewis followed the contemporary art market, travelling to art fairs, auctions, museums, and the offices and homes of billionaire art collectors,, interviewing dealers, auctioneers, gallery-owners, art market analysts and art collectors, trying to find out the reasons behind this historic phenomenon. He uncovered a world of complicated deals, distinctive market practices and widespread secrecy as well as passionate enthusiasm for contemporary art.
On September 15th 2008, the day of the collapse of Lehmans, the worst financial news since 1929, Damien Hirst sold over £70 million of his art, in an auction at Sotheby’s that would total £111 million over two days. It was the peak of the contemporary art bubble – the greatest rise in the financial value of art in the history of the world.
One art critic and film-maker was banned by Sotheby’s and Hirst from attending this historic auction: Ben Lewis.
Why? He had spent a year making a documentary searchng for the reasons behind the booming contemporary art market, and they claimed he was “biased” against them and contemporary art.
During the easy-credit boom years, there were bubbles in many assets – property, wine, copper, oil. But there was one bubble that was bigger than all the rest: contemporary art. An Andy Warhol sold for $72 million, a Rothko for $73 million, and a Francis Bacon for $86 million. While the rest of the economy began to falter under the Credit Crunch in late 2007, the contemporary art bubble kept on inflating, bigger and fatter than ever before.
Art critic and film-maker Ben Lewis spent all of 2008 investigating this contemporary art bubble. Everywhere he went, the art world told him that the contemporary art boom would go on forever, fuelled by a new passion from the world’s super-rich. But Lewis found other big reasons for the contemporary art boom – a world of unusual market practices, speculation, secrecy and tax breaks that involved the whole art world – dealers, collectors, galleries, auction houses and, in some senses, even public museums.
In the climax of the film, Lewis’ discoveries lead him to play his own part in the bursting of the contemporary art bubble, which is revealed for the first time in this film.
Finally the moment came that he had long predicted. A month after the Hirst auction at Sotheby’s, the contemporary art market crashed, dropping by 40% in November 2008 and 75% by February 2009, and still falling today.
The Great Contemporary Art Bubble is not only a film about the art market , it may be read as a parable for the delusion and greed which drove the world economy over the edge in 2008. In future years the contemporary art bubble may come to be seen as the epitome of the boom-times we have been living through.
The Great Contemporary Art Bubble