It has been an extraordinary season in both the galleries and the salerooms. The thoughtfulness in evidence in the most impressive exhibition roster for years was on display only sporadically in the commercial art world, and noticeably absent in the market for contemporary work. Public galleries and the stuff coveted by private collectors have rarely seemed so far apart. For now at least, real art and real money have gone their separate ways.
Proof came in the unedifying form of the Damien Hirst sale at Sotheby's. It takes a man born under a lucky star - and one with rich and fearful underbidders ready to throw away money to prop up the value of their existing holdings - to net £111 million for a collection of ersatz and derivative gewgaws, and to do so on the eve of a collapsing market too.
If Hirst's sale was the equivalent of the Duchess of Richmond's ball, then some of the shine hung around long enough to cast a glimmer over October's Frieze and Zoo art fairs. This year, however, unlike Hirst, they couldn't insulate themselves against the economic chill outside. The Frieze organisers gamely claimed sales at the fair "still exceeded expectations" - but that code was not a hard one to crack. The success of these two recently instituted events has been an indication of the seemingly unstoppable rise of the contemporary art market and the triumph of money over quality. The rise has proved all too stoppable, though. With the big November sales of Hirst et al coming in well under estimate, the contemporary art juggernaut has come to a juddering halt.
Of course, the éminence grise of the whole caboodle was busy, too. The opening of Charles Saatchi's new gallery in the old Duke of York HQ in Chelsea was an act of munificent civil mindedness; unfortunately the launch display of new Chinese art couldn't rise to the occasion and compete with the gallery's handsome rooms.