Cover Artforum, April 2008 (Art and its Markets), with Damien Hirst, For the Love of God (2007)

Art is a special kind of commodity. It has an economic value which is based on the assumption that it also possesses a symbolic value that money can not buy. Therefore there is no logical price for art. With contemporary art this goes even further, because here the symbolic value is not yet decided. This makes contemporary art an object of quick trading. As a result our global art market is resembling a business market, where more and more money is involved to speculate about the new. The resulting high prices are far from being justified by a free convergence of supply and demand. Art critics, art historians and other agents of knowledge are even more necessary to assure the artworks of symbolic back-up.

The tension caused by the double value of art was explicitly noticeable at the 2009 Frieze Art Fair in London. In his essay, Martijn van Beek describes his experience of the fair, which was overshadowed by the notion of hyping. Emphasising the young, hip and fast, the artworks were sold at such a speed that there was no time for reflection. Even though the fair seems to be a place for trading art, Stefaan Vervoort shows that the Tate Modern penetrated the fair from the start. Within a philanthropic construction, collective agreements were made to manipulate the prices of the artworks. This hidden market-logic is present in places where you would not expect it. Elise Noyez goes back to the 1970s and describes how the seemingly ideological art dealer Seth Sieglaub found a way to ensure scarcity of artworks that could potentially be made in unlimited numbers. Going even further back to the nineteenth century, Laura Prins gives a historical predecessor in the person of the art dealer Paul Durand-Ruel. Finally, emphasising the importance of the context in which artworks circulate, Jane Boddy focuses on a video piece by Andrea Fraser. Here the art value is not the work itself, but the place and time in which it is found.

Jane Boddy


Martijn van Beek, “Hype Park”

Stefaan Vervoort, “Conflicts of Interest”

Elise Noyez, “Double Standard”

Laura Prins, “Lard for l‘Art”

Jane Boddy, “Untitled”


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This website is the outcome of the course Critical Issues in the Cultural Industries, supervised by prof. Wouter Davidts within the context of the Visual Arts, Media & Architecture MPhil program at VU University Amsterdam. Contributors to the site are the first and second year students of the research master enrolled in the course.

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