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Episode 189: Why A Dead Shark Costs $12 Million

The famous work "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" by British artist Damien Hirst.
The famous work "The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living" by British artist Damien Hirst.

This episode originally ran in 2010.

In 2005, artist Damien Hirst's dead shark reportedly sold for $12 million. Meanwhile, a small business owner named Eddie Saunders had a dead shark hanging in his electrical shop for years. He couldn't even sell it for $1.5 million.

We wanted to understand this. Why did Hirst's shark go for so much?

We talk to a New York gallery owner and the late economist William Baumol about the fickle and uncertain market of art.

If you're interested in learning more about the contemporary art world or checking out the images we talk about in the show, here's what to do.

You can read Ed Winkleman's blog, browse the works of Matthew Albanese, the man behind the steel-wool tornado, and check out "Art Investment as Floating Crap Game" by Baumol.

And here's a slide show of the work mentioned in the episode.

Music: "Trampoline" and "Hip Hop Fairy Queen."

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David Kestenbaum is a correspondent for NPR, covering science, energy issues and, most recently, the global economy for NPR's multimedia project Planet Money. David has been a science correspondent for NPR since 1999. He came to journalism the usual way — by getting a Ph.D. in physics first.
Alex Blumberg is a contributing editor for NPR's Planet Money. He is also a producer for the public radio program This American Life, and an adjunct professor of journalism at Columbia University. He has done radio documentaries on the U.S. Navy, people who do impersonations of their mothers and teenage Steve Forbes supporters. He won first place at the 2002 Third Coast International Audio Festival for his story "Yes, There is a Baby." His story on clinical medical ethicists won the 1999 Public Radio News Directors Incorporated (PRNDI) award for best radio documentary.
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