The Stuffed shark referred to in the title is The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by British artist Damien Hirst. This fifteen foot shark was caught in Australian by a professional shark hunter and shipped to the U.K. It was mounted into a tank of formeldahyde by technicians under the guidance of the artist in 1992. Because of poor preservation techniques, the shark decomposed and had to be replaced with a similar one.
This piece is used as an introduction to the elevated world of "contemporary art", some of the major players and the maneuverings to gain publicity and increase the selling price.
The author's stated purpose is to ". . . explore money, lust, and the self-aggrandizement of possession, all important elements in the world of contemporary art." And a strange world it is to us ordinary folks.
The basis for this world is two: Lots of money and insecurity. It seems strange that extremely wealthy people can be insecure. Many "High Net Worth Individuals" apparently often don't have the time to education themselves aesthetically and look to shortcuts. There are some out there who have a genuine passion for "contemporary art" and know what they like, but they are the exception to the rule.
The author tries to define "contemporary art". There are also "Modern" and "impressionist" categories which also can be the same age of "contemporary art". There are many variations on the definition so the author has a working definition for the purpose of this book: ". . . art that is non-traditional and was created after 1970, or that a major auction house has offered it or a similar work by the same artist as 'contemporary'." For further simplicity he has decided to discuss two-dimensional works on canvas or paperand sculpture. This leaves out quite abit like video, film, performance and much else. After all the purpose of this book is to explore the economics of the "contemporary art" scene, not an overview of whats out there.
"Contemporary art" often overlaps with design, for example Louis Viutton handbags. Everyday objects often are included when it is part of "conceptual art", when the "idea" is more important than skills and craftsmanship or even permanence.
Another factor contributing to collector's not trusting their own judgement is the way "contemporary art" is described in vague terms like "innovation", "investment value", and being "hot". There isn't much someone can understand except "investment value". Later on in this book "investment value" is shown to be a house of cards.
So what is our poor "High Net Worth Individual" to do? Like many consumers looking for a shortcut to perceived value, they depend on branding.