Mad Money, Mega Dealers, and the Rise of Contemporary Art


By Michael Shnayerson

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The meteoric rise of the largest unregulated financial market in the world — for contemporary art — is driven by a few passionate, guileful, and very hard-nosed dealers. They can make and break careers and fortunes.

The contemporary art market is an international juggernaut, throwing off multimillion-dollar deals as wealthy buyers move from fair to fair, auction to auction, party to glittering party. But none of it would happen without the dealers-the tastemakers who back emerging artists and steer them to success, often to see them picked off by a rival.

Dealers operate within a private world of handshake agreements, negotiating for the highest commissions. Michael Shnayerson, a longtime contributing editor to Vanity Fair, writes the first ever definitive history of their activities. He has spoken to all of today’s so-called mega dealers — Larry Gagosian, David Zwirner, Arne and Marc Glimcher, and Iwan Wirth — along with dozens of other dealers — from Irving Blum to Gavin Brown — who worked with the greatest artists of their times: Jackson Pollock, Andy Warhol, Cy Twombly, and more.

This kaleidoscopic history begins in the mid-1940s in genteel poverty with a scattering of galleries in midtown Manhattan, takes us through the ramshackle 1950s studios of Coenties Slip, the hipster locations in SoHo and Chelsea, London’s Bond Street, and across the terraces of Art Basel until today. Now, dealers and auctioneers are seeking the first billion-dollar painting. It hasn’t happened yet, but they are confident they can push the price there soon.

  • "The narrative is packed with scrumptious anecdotes and revealing portraits of key players and artists... In this rich, superbly nuanced history, Shnayerson fully demonstrates that he has his finger on the financial pulse of modern art."
    Kirkus, Starred Review
  • "Focusing on personalities as much as business development, Shnayerson's writing is conversational and accessible, even for those without deep art knowledge. Fast-paced and eye-opening, this is a wildly entertaining business history."
    Publishers Weekly
  • "In Boom, Michael Shnayerson masterfully traces the blaze-like contemporary art market back to what now seem like unassuming origins. He tells how, somewhere along the way, dealers persuaded the rest of the art world that what they were looking at was not as important as why they were looking at it. And the why, as it turns out, was money."
    Graydon Carter, former editor of Vanity Fair and founder of Air Mail newsletter
  • "How did the art world-the rarefied, decorous realm of a few hundred in the 1960s-become the art market? Michael Shnayerson penetrates the mysterious conclave of taste, style and money in this sparkling, high-octane account. It's all here and beautifully bound together, from Lucien Freud's gambling debts to the AIDS epidemic to private museums to the magical question of whether the artist makes the dealer or the dealer the artist."
    Stacy Schiff, author of Cleopatra: ALife and The Witches: Salem, 1692
  • "Boom reflects better than anything I have read the characters, the motives, and the overall vibe of the contemporary art world."
    Daniel Weiss, President and CEO of the Metropolitan Museum of Art
  • "The high end of the contemporary art market is driven by branding, backstories, mega dealers, art fairs, art investment funds, and occasionally, a hugely talented artist. Most important, it is driven by people. Michael Shnayerson has done the best job I know in pulling all these together. Think of the book as a 400-page Vanity Fair article (where he is a longtime contributing editor). I offer that comparison as a compliment to its style and depth of detail.

    He has captured profiles of the mega-dealers: Gagosian, Zwirner, Wirth, and the Glimchers; the billionaire collectors; and the lawsuits, with background and astute observations. My own books on the contemporary art market would have been much improved this had come earlier. A great read."
    Don Thompson is the author of The $12Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art, and TheOrange Balloon Dog: Bubbles, Turmoil and Avarice in the Contemporary Art Market
  • "Part Painted Bird, part Off the Wall, and part Duveen, Michael Shnayerson's Boom deftly captures the extraordinary dynamics at work in the contemporary art market by focusing on the global mega dealers and their constantly evolving stable of artists, many of whom together have become fabulously rich beyond their wildest dreams. In Shnayerson's confident hands, the story of their successes is riveting, informative, and often hard to fathom."
    William Cohan, author of House ofCards: A Tale of Hubris and Wretched Excess on Wall Street
  • "The book is a pleasure to read, lively, smart, and wonderfully informative, full of the big personalities, genius, passion, and skullduggery of the contemporary art world."
    Roxana Robinson authorof Georgia O'Keeffe: A Life

On Sale
May 21, 2019
Page Count
464 pages

Michael Shnayerson

About the Author

Michael Shnayerson is a long-time contributing editor to Vanity Fair and the author of eight books on a range of nonfiction subjects, from biographies of entertainer Harry Belafonte (My Song) and New York governor Andrew Cuomo (The Contender) to narrative-driven accounts of drug-resistant bacteria (The Killer Within) and mountaintop coal removal (Coal River). Shnayerson is married to Gayfryd Steinberg, and lives in Sag Harbor and Manhattan.

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