Ben’s Interview with Leipzig Magazine: Kreuzer

Last week Ben was in Leipzig attending the screening of his film ‘The Great Contemporary Art Bubble’ at Halle 14 as part of the exhibition ‘To have and have not’. Whilst he was there he was interviewed by The Leipzig Magazine, Kreuzer. The interview was conducted by Sarah Alberti and discussed Ben’s film, his love for art and  Berlin in 1989.


Here are some of Ben’s answers:

kreuzer: Was hat Sie dazu bewogen, einen Dokumentarfilm zum Kunstmarkt zu drehen?

BEN LEWIS: Ich habe eine Fernsehserie namens »Art Safari« gemacht, in der es vordergründig um die Begeisterung für zeitgenössische Kunst und die Frage ging, warum die Kunstwelt einige wenige Leute berühmt macht, wie zum Beispiel Maurizio Cattelan, Matthew Barney und Sophie Calle. Als ich mit der Serie fertig war, ging der Kunstmarkt durch die Decke….

kreuzer: Sind Sie Journalist oder Kunstkritiker? Oder beides?

LEWIS: Ich bin vieles. Journalist, Kunstkritiker, Filmemacher und habe ein Buch über kommunistische Witze geschrieben. Ich interessiere mich für all jene Gebiete, in denen das Politische auf die Kultur trifft. In den 1970ern sagten die Feministen: Das Persönliche ist politisch. Wenn ich einen Slogan für mich finden müsste, dann: Das Kulturelle ist politisch….

To see the full interview, entitled ‘Damien Hirst ist sein geld nicht wert’, visit the website here.

The Great Contemporary Art Bubble at Halle 14!

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This Thursday, 27/06/13, The Great Contemporary Art Bubble will be screened at Halle 14 – independant arts centre, in Leipzig, Germany as part of the ‘MUST HAVE’ series. Following this showing there will be a discusion with Ben Lewis.

Here is the information on the screening from the Halle 14 website:

“To Have and Have Not“ investigates the mechanisms, social effects and psychological dimensions of avarice—one of man’s most primitive propensities. Although greed’s triumphs are largely celebrated today, can art somehow teach us that this urge is essentially asocial and that prudence and empathy are more important than economic profit? Does art know how to take this drive for personal profit and channel it towards a synergetic, collective capital? Which fundamental, societal convictions must exist, in order to stop the continuation of what leads us “into temptation”. And if we are to understand greed as a motivational motor behind success and accomplishment in the world, can art delineate the boundaries that distinguish between the productive application of this drive and aggressive empowerment? The exhibition “To Have and Have Not“ calls for a reflection on the selfish and destructive effects of greed, while arguing for a new consideration of its antipode: generosity.

The exhibition will be accompanied by the event series MUST-HAVE and by art education programming for all ages

Do, 27. Juni 2013
20 Uhr im LURU KINO

Als die Preise für Kunst in Europa, Amerika und China ins Unermessliche stiegen, recherchierte der Kunstkritiker und Filmemacher Ben Lewis das ganze Jahr 2008 die Hintergründe ihrer Entstehung. Dabei entdeckte er eine Welt aus verschwiegenen Geschäften, Spekulationen, Steuererleichterungen und Marktmanipulationen, die die ganze Kunstwelt umfassten. Händler, Sammler, Galerien, Auktionshäuser und sogar öffentliche Museen waren in diese involviert. Und währen anderenorts Immobilienblasen platzten und weltweit die Finanzkrise auslösten, dokumentierte Lewis die gleichzeitige Hochstimmung des Kunstmarktes. Nach wie vor ist das Preisniveau hier hoch, die Geschäfte mit der Kunst scheinen weiter zu gehen wie bisher. 
Ben Lewis wird während der Vorführung seines Films anwesend sein und freut sich im Anschluss auf die Fragerunde und Diskussion mit dem Publikum in Leipzig.

For more information visit the Halle 14 website.

Interview with Ben Lewis in ARTPULSE Magazine


Ben got interviewed about his opinions on the art market in ARTPULSE.

Read his answers to questions like:

What criteria do you use in judging art? 

Assuming that an independent regulatory system could be set up for art dealing, what sort of things would you like to see it do? 

What role do you think taste plays in the decisions that big collectors make? 

What problems exist with the public side of the art world, such as publicly funded museums, and how should these be addressed? 

What role do you think art critics can (or should) play in the post-bubble market?

Read the article here

The Car’s The Star

This is Ben’s car:


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This is how it looked when he purchased it in 2006:

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It’s a Gwiz electric car which provides no emission!

When Ben did his documentary about the art market in 2008/9, he thought it was time for a change. In order to blend in with the art world, he persuaded the German artist Tobias Rehberger to transform his car. Tobias likes to experiment at the borderline between art and design and he was happy to collaborate.

First, he asked Ben to alter the shapes of the car. Ben found a garage with artistically-minded mechanics and they added some swellings here and there:

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Then Tobias came over to London and met Ben at the garage.
They put on their overalls …

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Mic check:

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One last ciggy before it all starts …..

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The car’s already waiting behind those doors:

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The time has come – they enter …  CAMERA ON!

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Tobias starts off …

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A few last adjustments:

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And the car is ready to go …   a real Rehberger!

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“Ben Bursts Art Bubble” Cape Times Article

The Cape Times have released an article discussing The Great Contemporary Art Bubble in the run up to it’s screening at the Cape Town Encounters Documentary Festival.

Ben Bursts Art Bubble

June 1 2012 at 09:23am

British art critic and documentary-maker, Ben Lewis directs and presents The Great Contemporary Art Bubble on at the Encounters Documentary Festival in Cape Town from June 7 to 24.
EVEN artists’ fag ends will sell as art but neon artworks are the cheese sandwiches of art. These are just two of the delicious quotes from documentary-maker and British art critic Ben Lewis in his film The Great Contemporary Art Bubble, to be screened at the Encounters Documentary Festival.

Ben gives us access to New York art collectors’ homes, and interviews astute art market reporters, curators, art dealers, museum directors and economists.

This intriguing documentary gives context to a time when the global economy was booming, when oil was $147 a barrel, there were over 1000 billionaires on the planet and the thing that went up faster than anything else was contemporary art.

It was, as Ben explains, a time when Andy Warhol’s Green Car Crash sold for $72 million and Damien Hirst’s butterfly paintings were priced at $9m and collectors bought hundreds of them. As art correspondent Godfrey Baker plays it out: “This is the market that makes a lot of money for a lot of people and it does it far faster than Wall Street and more predictably.”

If you care about the world of art fairs, biennales and art auctions and a time when the super rich fluttered about contemporary art, you’ll be sucked in.

“It was a time of the biggest rise in the financial value of art in the history of the world,” says Ben of the art bubble he doggedly spent a year investigating to expose how art is exploited by the richest people to make even more money out of it. Statistics reveal the 55 percent increase in value of contemporary art, compared to the Old Masters at 7.6 percent, during 2006 and 2007.

We witness the historic moment when a Francis Bacon triptych sold for $77m at Sotheby’s. Annoyingly, Sotheby’s refused to enter into the debate about art as a commodity as Ben argues that: “They think the good times will never end.”

We learn how debt drives the bubble, how auction rooms control art prices. We learn of tax avoidance and how billionaires have hijacked art history money.

Ben is a charming narrator and we follow his investigation as he exposes a dishonest system in the art world. My sole criticism is it only gets juicy after about 50 minutes.

Essentially, Ben was motivated to make this documentary because he didn’t like what was happening in the art world. He rightly felt much art was being mass-produced, was repetitive and commercial.

“Collectors bought it for investment and stored it in warehouses,” he says, and shows us exactly that.

Noise of Cairo is another great documentary. It is about freedom of expression for artists after the Arab Spring, specifically in Egypt. Directed by Heiko Lange, it is beautifully shot and provides sensitive insight and a meaningful barometer of the time after the revolution.

We meet stencil street-artists, art commentators, dancers and curators. It is interesting that it is the dancers who are most subtle in reflecting this historical mood.

Contemporary dancer Ezzat Ismail shares a beautiful bench street dance. It is wonderfully conceptual, most poignant and heartfelt. It was shot in black and white during the curfew and just 200m from tanks with soldiers watching him dance in his black leathers under a streetlight.

“This performance is about what will happen next; this waiting provokes fear and happiness, a mix of feelings… same time you are afraid as it might get worse or better, it is the fear of the unknown,” says the dancer. “But now is the time to show everyone.”

“Egypt is such a complex society,” explains choreographer Karina Mansour in an interview.

“We have veiled women but we also have women like me and I am a dancer working with the body… I am not particularly interested to create work directly related to the revolution, it is a fine line between using it to sell something which I feel would be too easy, cheap.

“What lots of the participants in the dance workshop said to me is they want to do something but they don’t want to do something about the revolution. When you see the work it is there, but it is not there, moments of chaos and joy… all related to that.”

The scene where Karina’s dancers evoke raw energy with a biting sense of Egypt’s turbulent history and how that energy transforms is riveting. Dancers in an old Cairo warehouse create a sublime performance that is meaningful and memorable.

“The state theatres have to change… if they don’t, we will have to walk in and squat… because it is enough,” insists Karina as artists in Egypt still struggle to enjoy wider access.

The Encounters Documentary Festival is in its 12th year with 29 international and 22 SA films. Expect compelling documentaries, award-winners, festival darlings, a few SA world premieres and fresh student films.

l The Encounters Documentary Festival is from June 7 to 24 at the Nu Metro V&A and Ster Kinekor Cavendish. See or or call The Fugard Theatre at 021 461 4554.

Article can be found here 

The Encounters Documentary festival is taking place from the 7th – 24th June.

The Great Contemporary Art Bubble will be shown on Monday 11th, Tuesday 12th, Tuesday 19th and Sat 23rd.

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.

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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

Variety and Huffington Post reviews rave about ‘Bubble’


Variety reviews ‘The Great Contemporary Art Bubble’ – “highly entertaining… sense of excitement… Lewis picked the right time….unusually candid”


America’s leading political blog, the Huffington Post reviews ‘The Great Contemporary Art Bubble’ -“A visually splendid and diverting indictment of greed and collusion”