The Bookshelf: Boris Johnson meets the $12m Shark

Some digital detoxing has really helped with increasing my focus on reading books over the last couple of months. I found my appetite for reading dropping a lot in the Autumn, and laying off digital media a bit seems to have helped.

I’m also trying to cut down on shorter form content (including blog posts — yes, the irony of this article is not lost on me) and to focus more on journals and books in subjects that I’m curious about.

The sources of discovery for this book list has been very mixed; I’ve been given some excellent recommendations for new (and old) titles from people who know I’m getting close to the launch of my next venture; additionally a couple got found in pretty unorthodox ways, as you’ll read below…

So without further ado, here’s my current reading list — a mix of art, audience, A3 licenses and architecture.


The $12m Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art

The $12m stuffed shark

Economics professor Don Thompson delves into the contemporary art industry, profiling dealers, gallerists, artists and market forces that make this sector so hard for outsiders to understand.

I got particularly interested in this when thinking about what other entertainment sectors can learn from how modern art works. The key takeaway is branding, provenance and patronage are the center, with Charles Saatchi and Larry Gagosian being the leaders in the latter and often also the former.

Outside of the business side of the modern art world, a recent visit to the Chisenhale Gallery in London further perplexed me. Whilst the concept behind the exhibition was interesting and made sense, the execution didn’t feel like art at all to me. Thus, can the idea alone be considered art?

Thanks to Toby Benson for the book recommendation.

Further reading: Talking Prices by Olav Velthuis


The Mayor of London: An A-Z of Planning and Culture


Something a little more obscure: I came across this in the reception area of a company I was visiting. It felt like a slightly peculiar item for them to have, but nonetheless it’s a very handy and interesting little booklet.

In the Autumn, Mayor of London Boris Johnson called on planners, developers and local authorities to put culture and creativity at the forefront when planning and designing developments in the capital.

However, London is set to lose 3,500 artist studios in the next five years, a third of the capital’s creative workspace, whilst a third of grassroots live music venues have disappeared since 2007. Second Home’s collaboration with Bold Tendencies to create 800 artist studios in Peckham got rejected last year, and rents in well-known creative districts such as Shoreditch are continuing to increase at a bewildering rate.

I’m becoming increasingly interested in the new ways in which physical space can be used for work, education and entertainment, and this guide was a good primer ahead of delving deeper.

I look forward to seeing whether the next London mayor is set to increase or reverse the shift of creative workplaces being turned into (high-end) residential.

A PDF of the guide can be downloaded here


Protein — Audience Survey


I was a bit dubious about this when I picked it up.

Does the world need any more thought leadership, trend forecasting and brand activations around various flavours of millennial bleeding edge influencer tastemaker early adopters? Probably not, but that definitely ain’t gonna stop anyone…

Considerable dose of cynicism aside, there’s a lot of interesting insight between the reassuringly heavy duty cover pages, and I found the data, views and new company tip-offs around social good and sustainability particularly engaging. Nicely designed and a tight concise read, worth checking out.


Offscreen Magazine


My discovery of this came through (maybe fittingly) an Airbnb listing in Los Angeles. In one of the listing’s photos, an edition of Offscreen issue 12 was on the table at the edge of the shot. Some of the features looked interesting, so I checked out their website, loved the story behind it and went to my local stockist to pick up a copy. (The Airbnb booking got cancelled by the host a week before arrival, but the inadvertent recommendation made up for it…)

Offscreen is an independent magazine that takes an in-depth look at the life and work of people that use the internet to be creative and build successful businesses. It’s founded by a chap called Kai Brach, based in Melbourne.

The design is as wonderful as you’d expect, and the features are insightful and relatable — ways to improve productivity, reasons for failure, behind the scenes of projects and a whole lot more. They also have a well-balanced attitude to advertising; partners are clearly picked carefully and the relationship between them and publication feels very authentic.

Whilst Offscreen is aimed more at designers and developers, as more of a ‘business’ person I still got a whole load of goodness from it. Go grab it!


Read any of these? Let me know here or on @howardgray on Twitter

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