Behind all of those canvases, the contemporary art world is backed by a collection of larger than life personalities. Art dealers. These are the movers and shakers of an artistic and financial movement that has been functioning since the 1940s. From the beginning galleries and their unsure futures to the continual modern multi-million dollar sales, this is the story of the wild group that has shaped world of contemporary art.
Author Michael Shnayerson opens in the present with a fascinating look at a the 2017 Art Basel fair, a regular gathering of dealers with a single goal: make sales. Here, he highlights four of the leading dealers, including the ever-profitable Larry Gagosian. There’s a thick air of competition that hangs over the proceedings, but also an undercurrent of fun and appreciation that always seeps into the arts. Having laid out where this movement ends up, Shnayerson pulls back from the glitzy showcase and pushes the narrative to the humble beginnings of contemporary art.
Jackson Pollock. Andy Warhol. Jeff Koons. Giants of the art world. And yet Shnayerson manages to stretch the focus away from these individuals in favor of dealers such as Leo Castelli and Mary Boone. This is easy to do, partly because their personalities are so big; their dealings so compelling. But it’s also because of Shnayerson’s commitment to research. His resources have obviously been meticulously compiled, and his interviews with many of the players throughout this period are unparalleled. Each chapter is backed with copious quotes and anecdotes, adding a deep air of authority while also keeping a thorough topic highly readable.
Even as the book showcases a closeness to the subjects, Shnayerson presents what feels like a full examination, warts and all. Dealers continually snipe both artists and art from others. Artists struggle in a professional selling environment. Even the dealers buy, sell, and trade art in a way that has turned the field into something like Wall Street. And in the end? It’s resulted in a volatile art community that’s bigger than ever.
Though it would be easy to cast this book aside as merely for art lovers and followers, that mentality does it a disservice. Yes, some with a deep understanding of the field will perk up at the myriad of behind the scenes moments presented, but others will drift into a book that crosses beyond niche. It’s both art and high drama; about business and a human need for success. But most of all, it’s a great read.
Title: Boom: Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art
Author: Michael Shnayerson
Publication Date: May 21, 2019
Classification: Art, Nonfiction
Note: I received a free ARC of this book through NetGalley.