The Great Contemporary Art Bubble


Art critic and film-maker Ben Lewis spent two years following the contemporary art market, from its peak in May 2008 until the crash in October. Now – in this new and updated version of the film first broadcast in May 2009 – he returns one year later, in October 2009, to discover a very different market.

2003 – 2008 witnessed an unprecedented craze for contemporary art, in which works of art by Andy Warhol, Francis Bacon, and Mark Rothko sold for record-breaking prices of thirty million pounds upwards. Ben followed record-breaking contemporary art auctions in Spring and Summer 2008 in London and New York, and filmed the art world at its most optimistic and confident – they thought prices would never go down.

Aby, Ben and Alberto -Top Trumps sml

It all climaxed in September 2008, when Damien Hirst sold £111m of his art at an unprecedented auction at Sotheby’s – the very day Lehman Brothers collapsed bringing down the financial markets of the western world.Ben was there – outside. Sotheby’s had banned him from filming inside, claiming he was “biased” against contemporary art, but that didn’t stop him from finding out the real reasons why the auction succeeded.

Like all our banks, the Damien Hirst auction was too big to fail – but it proved to be the art bubble’s last hurrah. The auctions in October and November 2008 were a disaster, and Ben was there too, filming the art world in shock.In October 2009, Ben returns to find out what has been happening. He finds a contemporary art market, in which all the predictions he had published in British newspapers since late 2007 have come true. He encounters a humbled art world, grateful it has survived the economic storm. And he uncovers one of the last great secrets behind the success of the Damien Hirst auction.


In this inside eye-witness journey inside the art world, Ben Lewis visits auction house, art fairs, galleries, and the homes of billionaires across the world, searching for the reasons behind the greatest rise in financial value of art in history. He interviews leading dealers, art collectors and art market analysts and discovers an extraordinary world of secretive deals, speculation, as well as boundless enthusiasm for art.

ben top trumps christies

Among the interviewees in my film:

Aby Rosen, is a New York property magnate, owner of the Seagram Building and Lever House, avid collector of Warhol, Hirst and Koons.

Jose and Alberto Mugrabi are a father-and-son team who are among the world’s most influential art collectors and dealers. They own around 800 Warhols and are said to have played a central part in the rise of prices for this artist, and for the entire contemporary art market, over the past decade.

Jim Chanos is a billionaire hedge-funder, famous for predicting the collapse of Enron in 2004. Chanos runs his own hedge-fund, Kynikois, which specialises in the contraversial activity of shorting. He shorted Sotheby’s shares from Summer 2007 for a year.

Edward Chancellor is a leading financial analyst and author of “Devil Take the Hindmost: a history of financial speculation”

Francis Outred was a contemporary art specialist at Sothebys 1999-2008, rising to become Head of Evening Sales. He is now the European head of postwar and contemporary art at Christie’s.

Carol Vogel is the renowned art market reporter for the New York Times.

Scott Reyburn is a London art market reporter.

Cristina Ruiz was the editor of the Art Newspaper 2003-8 and is now the paper’s features editor