In the tiny Journal Gallery in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn, a slightly dented mirrored disco ball, almost three feet in diameter, rests on a concrete floor. That’s it. There is nothing else in the room. The disco ball—a “found disco ball,” as the gallery puts it—is the entire show. It’s called Now Ever After.

The guy who found it and put it here is Helmut Lang, the fashion genius who has always made a point of crossbreeding his work with art. What’s intriguing is that for a while the disco ball sat in Lang’s old Greene Street clothing boutique in Manhattan. In traveling across the East River to Brooklyn, a bit of alchemy has occurred: A coolly theatrical retail prop has become, officially, Art. But Art that says what, exactly? Lang offers some musings in a statement about the piece (“The idea relates to the Janus mythology, looking back and moving forward...”). But as the year proceeds, as the subprime-mortgage implosion and the oil crisis drag the economy down and threaten to temper the art world’s free-spending euphoria, Lang’s disco ball—which kicked off the Journal Gallery’s exhibition calendar in January—appears increasingly, if accidentally, profound.

Sitting there all pretty and shiny, but also damaged and forlorn, it seems to be asking “Is the party over?”

If there’s any one sign that the most insane go-go art market in history hasn’t let up, it’s that the stunts of Damien Hirst, the art world’s longtime P.T. Barnum, still command attention and top dollar. Forget his notorious 14-foot tiger shark in a formaldehyde-filled vitrine, which sold in 2004 for $8 million to a hedge-fund billionaire. And forget his platinum cast of a human skull studded with 8,601 diamonds, which sold last year for $100 million to an unnamed “investment group” (which reportedly included Hirst’s dealer—so that nice round figure could be more of a marketing contrivance than actual currency). Now Hirst has decided to bypass his gallery entirely and take 200 works directly to auction in September. And it seems likely that he’ll gross at least $100 million—but for real this time. Talk about the Hirst auction is conspicuously not about the work so much as the potentially record-breaking tally. The price tag, in other words, is the art.

This is the conversation in the art world today: Can you believe we’re still getting away with this? From the auction houses of New York to the galleries of Berlin, there is collective amazement that as everything else plummets, the art market persists as a gravity-free parallel universe. And awe that the art world unhesitatingly bestows A-Rod money on the likes of Hirst and continues to mint new art stars just a few years out of school whose work suddenly sells for hundreds of thousands. And then there’s giddy relief that the art-fair circuiteers—the thousands of global jet-setters who take over Basel and London and Miami and other places throughout the year—can blithely party on.