The Soft Power of the Art Market & The Contemporary Global Art as the New Folklore

Cosmin Nasui
Dec 30, 2014 10:30AM

The Soft Power of the Art Market The Contemporary Global Art as the New Folklore*

August 2012

* This material is used as a starting point for discussions on the current system of contemporary art. The recording of debates in various cultural areas will add to this material to create a subsequent book.


I. Introduction

1) Definitions

2) Hypotheses

2.1. Post Duchamp & Warhol contemporary art as a new popular art and new folk art

2.2. Folk art, a consequence of the paradigm change. The artwork’s folk feature

2.3. Contemporary art as entertainment industry

2.4. The public receiving, contributing to and continuing the art’s folk attribute

2.5. Art beyond systems and institutions

2.6. Theoretical art

2.7. The cultural capital and the economic capital of the artwork

2.8. Artwork addiction to the capital circulation

II. Post Duchamp & Warhol paradigm: the new folk art

III. Perishability as the common attribute of art styles and theories

IV. The value of art after the twentieth century

V. The crisis of present day values

VI. Institutionalized art and its role as a soft power

VII. The market and the industrialization of artistic values from the second half of the twentieth century

1)      The geography of contemporary art: major and minor markets, shrinking markets and emerging markets

2)      The economy of cultural and artistic values

VIII. Art institutions as agents

1)      Collectors Museum

2)      The Agency-Gallery

3)      Art dealer

4)      Art fairs

5)      Auction houses

6)      Investment funds and their returns

7)      The public

8)      The artist

IX. The competition of art market giants

X. Corrupt art

XI. Alternative systems to the main markets for contemporary art

1) Emerging markets in Eastern Europe

2) Activists

3) Deinstitutionalized institutions

4) Economy of sharing, collaborative consumption, Fair Trade

I. Introduction

Art in the 21st century is looking for a new artistic paradigm that should restore the aesthetic and commercial valuation system. The theory that this study aims at introducing is that, at the end of the 20th century and beginning of the 21st century, contemporary culture and art have begun generating a new type of „urban folklore”, forced, through the speed of novelty, to enter an anonymous artistic consumption and production.

1) Definitions of concepts

Folklore: all stories, legends and creative production owned by a particular space, group or specific activity. In this material, it refers to the urban areas in general, as art generators, all around the globe.

Popular: that can be easily understood by anyone, simple, natural

Creative industries are considered components of modern post-industrial economies and synthesize a series of characteristics1:

-they represent a set of intensive knowledge activities, part of the knowledge-based economy;

- include design, production and distribution activities of goods and services with high artistic and scientific creativity, respectively having intangible cultural or information / encoded (as intellectual property) assets;

- have the ability to generate revenue from marketing creative products and services, as well as from the exploitation of intellectual property rights;

- have the potential to generate economic sustainable growth, promoting social inclusion, cultural diversity and human development.

The cultural and creative2 industries are: Advertising, Architecture, Art and art market, Crafts, Design, Fashion, Movie, Video and photography, Software and computer games, Music, Visual arts and Performing arts, Publishing, Television, Radio.

2) Hypotheses: assumptions for this paper and for further discussions

2.1. Post Duchamp & Warhol contemporary art as a new popular and folk art

We define the post Duchamp & Warhol contemporary art as contemporary folk art, an art using anthropological decoding tools specific to nowadays urban areas. We also consider it a popular art, easy to understand, using very well known idioms and iconographies, globally spread.

2.2. Folk art, a consequence of the paradigm change. The artwork’s folk feature

The types of artistic emulation, known as Schools or Currents, are actually creative products generated by prototype models. This kind of art objects is derived from the interpretation of reality made by artists, from the prototype perspective. This is supplemented by the wide dissemination of artistic message to the public very wide open to interpretations. All these form the folk characteristic of an artwork.

2.3. Contemporary art as entertainment industry

The power and expansion of global entertainment industry is due to features such as „simple”, „easy” based upon which creative products are disseminated and understood unbelievably fast and by a large extent of people from different cultural areas.

We hereby define contemporary art as entertainment, with features such as: mass production and distribution, general audience, high aesthetic tolerance, after-hours broadcast (after the working program), following the same audience segment in competition with show arts (music concerts, dance, theater, etc...), movie industry and TV productions.

The entertainment function of contemporary art is the result of the need for relaxation, of the social cultural alternative to the time assigned to work. The need for entertainment is directly proportional to the access to free time of a society. Culture and arts are the trade support of entertainment activities and products. Artistic genres and cultural products and any other derived products are unprecedentedly in ongoing development.

2.4. The public receiving, contributing to and continuing the art folk attribute

Public frustration of educated people when meeting entertainment forms of contemporary art is recorded through the inability of selection and attraction to easiness. The speed of entertainment artistic productions shows the high level of perishability of the value and reduced cultural capital.

2.5. Art beyond systems and institutions

In reversal to contemporary art as folk art, genuine art is the one that generates research and de-automates consciousness, first of the artist, then of the viewer. Genuine art is open to anyone and no form of power or capital should have ownership monopoly on art.

Art autonomy is demonstrated by the fact that it can be produced independently, outside institutions, whether public or private. The critical self-negation essential for the development of art often takes place outside institutional practices. To society, the contesting role of contemporary art is important and uncensored, even if associated to any revolution, reform or radicalism factor. Art between power (politics) and market (economic) acquires (media) addiction.

Art should not exist only in and for museums and on the art market, but also with the aim to develop and always articulate new ways of critical sensitivity. Genuine art should become a tool to see and learn the world with all its contradictions. From this point of view, museums and art institutions should function mainly as depositories and laboratories for the world’s aesthetic exploration. Private or public institutions should prevent art from privatization, economic assignment and subordination to the populist logic of culture industry.

In The Rules of Art (p. 104) Pierre Bourdieu records the types of art objects: social art, bourgeois art, art for art and pure art. Upgrading these categories in nowadays contemporaneity we could classify the art of Jeff Koons, for example, in the category of bourgeois art and aesthetics.

2.6. Theoretical art

A form of genuine art is theoretical art. Theoretical art means art which is based on a theory, develops it and arguments it visually and artistically. The difference between theoretical and conceptual art is that the latter replaces the object with the concept, operating a change of language and means of expression. Theoretical art is art inspired through research by forms of science such as mathematics, geometry, physics, etc. Theoretical art investigates scientific researches on the structure of which it builds new realities. Works of theoretical art are patented as inventions and protected by industry. Their owners can use them with prototype value, but also with the opportunity to be reproduced at large scale for utility purposes.

2.7. The cultural capital and the economic capital of the artwork

The absence of Eastern European art market in the last almost six decades has produced artworks with no important commercial value, with dissemination and movement restricted almost always to the producers themselves. Therefore, Eastern Europe understands and defines differently the cultural capital and the economic capital of the artwork.

On the other hand, recent intense exploitation within the areas of the economic powers (the Anglo-Saxon American model) of artworks accumulations of economic capital has led to various types of economies which subordinated and marginalized their cultural capital.

2.8. Artwork addiction to the capital circulation

Artifact self-sufficiency and social engagement of art have been corrupted by the forces getting in touch with it: politics, economics, media. The accepted, official, conformist art is the result of public, political corruption (as distortion), while the decorativism and entertainment art are the result of private corruption made by commercial and utility structures. Contemporary art is dependent on the movement of capital. A contemporary art oriented to the progress of the cultural capital would lead to the loss of market, just as market development involves maximizing the profit and increasing economic capital.

II. Post Duchamp & Warhol paradigm: the new folk art

The end of the twentieth century art has undergone one of the most radical paradigm shifts from Leonardo Da Vinci. Marcel Duchamp and Andy Warhol, the pioneers of this new artistic paradigm have each launched definitions and mechanisms that have irrevocably transformed the understanding of the function and forms of art. The former left art without the object of the professional art craft, the latter deprived it of its unique value. Many innovations have occurred successively, using these new paradigm formats, leaving, on one hand, many artists without their livelihood and, on the other hand, a great part of the public in discontent, because of the misunderstanding of art works and in extensio of artistic phenomena.

Relinquishing its function as object, art was progressively charged with concept until this has become indispensable to it. The charging with concept of the artistic production is inversely proportional to the presence of the art object; it might even be absent from the encounter with the artistic discourse or the materiality of creation.

Because art no longer requires craft skills, the savoir faire is widely accessible to creators. Artistic means and stylistic methods were made available to the public, giving rise to hybrids, true folk artists, producers or co-producers (not only through interpretation) of artistic creation and different types of derivatives of artistic character. Through mimicry, these artists take advantage of this systematic confusion of cultural capital production and pursue financial resources in order to become new Jeff Koons-es.

Art criticism has gradually remained without the object of analysis; it became a rigid and academicized textualism of highly-conceptual or philosophical and aesthetic discourses. The analysis of concepts transformed art criticism into a discipline of hunting footnoted quotes to build a meta-discourse on artistic concepts, lacking in object form, oftentimes dull and incomprehensible to the general public, like a network of parallel mirrors.

The "prophets" Duchamp and Warhol have been interpreted, quoted and reinvented worldwide for more than 60 years without anyone being able to provide a real invention or an exit from the paradigm created by them. In more than six decades, it was formed a critical mass of new folk of contemporary art, adapted to the anonymity of the speed of artistic production and of every person’s 15 minutes of fame, prophesied by Andy Warhol.

This folk art is currently represented by hundreds of thousands of professional artists and amateurs around the world, in the same random way in which people in the Cucuteni period, the Metal Age or the Gothic Middle Ages produced works with a common folk denominator. Then, the same materials (ceramics, iron, etc.), motifs and decorative patterns, tools were discovered and used simultaneously on an extended geographical area, similar to what we call today a global phenomenon.

Nowadays, globalization occurs locally by the adoption and adaptation of macro-models into micro-models. This local micro-globalization of contemporary art phenomena makes the styles of the artists resemble one another very much, without discovering great differences between the cultural areas of origin. In search of originality, artists have come to be similar.

III. Perishability as the common attribute of art styles and theories

Taking into consideration the fact that a paradigm shift generates a folklore specific to itself, types of folklore, developed after various stylistic periods of the history of art can be followed. Art objects herein called “folk objects” are the product of mechanisms started from a model based on extensive production, regardless of the historical period. One can identify examples like the Venetian School having Titian as prototype, the Florentine School with Botticelli, the Little Dutch Masters with Pieter Brueghel the Elder, the School of Rubens, the one of Rembrandt, Pre-Raphaelites with Raphael, the Barbizon School beginning with Constable and continuing with Millet, the cubist folklore around Picasso, etc.

Putting scientific research at the center of art, Leonardo Da Vinci generates on a historical scale the most important art paradigm shift until the twentieth century.

Strong Currents and Schools manage to impose themselves as Styles.

Styles are conglomerates composed of a prototype, its variations (Currents, Schools), public perception of the time, values ​​and theories that contain stylistic features. They practically form what we call in this material folklore/folk art.

Each style goes through three stages: avant-garde, consecration, mannerism. The distances between the stages are different from case to case. These styles, actually types of folklore, once absorbed by their contemporariness, expand, then shrink and are replaced. According to some researchers3, in order to be established to an audience, a style needs thirty years of peace, three years of war and three months of crisis. The theories, the conceptual scaffolding of the Styles, are also subject to perishability.

Paradigm-changing prototypes actually reveal new functions of art and specific forms to valorize it.

Also, a crisis of values ​​and theoretical systems is the sign of the paradigm going into the mannerism stage.

IV. The value of art after the twentieth century

Here is how Pierre Bourdieu explains the value of art4:

"The producer of the value of the work of art is not the artist, but the field of production, as the universe of faith, which produces the value of the work of art as a fetish, determining faith in the artist’s creative power. Since the work of art has no value as symbolic world unless it is known and recognized, that is, socially established as a work of art to viewers endowed with the disposition and aesthetic competence knowledge necessary to know and recognize it, the science of works has as object not only the material production of the work, but also the production of the value of the work or of the faith in the value of the work, which is the same thing.

Therefore, it must take into account not only the direct producers of the work in its materiality (artist, writer, etc.), but also all the agents and the institutions involved in the production of the value of the work by producing faith in the value of art in general and the distinctive value of a particular work of art (i.e. critics, art historians, publishers, gallery managers, dealers, museum curators, patrons, collectors, members of the courts of consecration - academies, salons, juries, etc.) and all political and administrative bodies having competence in art (various ministries - depending on the period – The National Museums Department, Department of Fine Arts, etc.), which can interfere with the art market, either through verdicts of establishment, with or without economic benefits (procurement, grants, awards, scholarships, etc.), or by regulatory measures (tax incentives offered to various patrons and collectors, etc.). We must not forget the members of the institutions involved in the production of producers (Schools of Fine Arts, etc.) and the production of consumers able to recognize the work of art as such, as value, starting from the teachers and the parents responsible for the first inoculation of artistic dispositions.” (Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, p. 295-296)

So, defining the context of producing the value of the work of art is relevant in analyzing the value of the work of art and of the artistic creation. The current art market moved the center of production of this artistic value decisively from the artist to the field of production. This industrialized field of production is not only the producer of artistic value but also the producer of artists and of the public receiving these values.

V. The crisis of present day values

The power of a Style to impose itself appears in the context of its functionality, its ability to produce values. After the values enter the phase of decline, they become models for and witnesses to stylistic sets related to historical scales.

The post Duchamp and post Warhol paradigm went beyond the avant-garde and the establishment phase and reaches the mannerism phase through a crisis of the values ​​of the paradigm.

The success of the post Duchamp and post Warhol art scene is due to being built ​​on the mechanisms of an art market economically capitalized, in an aggressive manner, at global level (see above the creative industries above and below the variety of active institutions-players). In a post-capitalist world, one of the aesthetic values ​​of contemporary art is the result of the exploitation of economic capital inflows.

VI. Institutionalized art and its role as a soft power

The institutionalization of art finds many forms and roles for all types of players on the art scene. The funding system influences the creation and the work of art in a variety of methodologies without precedent so far.

The public sector institutionalizes art through commissioning, purchasing, promotion, etc. and uses its propaganda potential to recognize power (national, political, historical, ethnographic, religious, military, etc.). This sector also gives art an educational character, for the imposition and maintenance of specific values, through their wide dissemination. The power of dissemination and the status of official art, recognized and thus validated is a type of soft power.

Typically, the forms in which this type of contemporary art is manifested are conservative.

The private sector institutionalizes art in order to use its financial investment attributes and to build pyramid schemes in order to increase value and profit. Culture and art are under a corporate umbrella, engaging tax cuts for the corporations. Private corporate sponsorship connects art to corporate values ​​and culture. Copyright, reproduction and copying regulations are forms of control and restriction of the freedom of movement of creation and shows the high degree of interdependence of the form of finance. Creative labor rights are regulated and independently traded as a commodity on the copyright market.

Thus, public and private institutions worldwide are engaged in the propaganda of systems where creation is seen as an instrument or a commodity. Knowledge is limited by control; it can no longer provoke the system due to financial interdependence, and gets to be diluted in the play of production.

VII. The market and the industrialization of artistic values from the second half of the twentieth century

The industrialization of culture is a factor that became dominant after the second half of the twentieth century in Europe and USA. The term “cultural industry” was used by sociologists Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer in 1947 ("The Dialectic of Enlightenment") to represent all the techniques of production and reproduction of cultural works with social impact.

Cultural industries have become the main model of development in the global world culture. The effects of this industrialization make art and culture accessible to large numbers of people who become consumers and thus producers of several types of markets. They can be minor or major markets, in terms of geographical origin (from the West to the East) and of distribution and consumption of artistic production (various forms of art, from the object itself to gadgets).

Contemporary art is a creative and entertainment industry, in which aesthetic values ​​are supported and permanently equaled to commercial values. The field of production (to which Bourdieu refers) in post-capitalism is based on the circulation of values and finding their commercial correspondent. The art and culture market is the place of presentation and meeting of demand and of supply of artistic and cultural products.

1)      The geography of contemporary art: major and minor markets, shrinking markets and emerging markets

Contemporary art is circulated, produced and traded mainly in cultural spaces that overlap with the geographic distribution of economic power. The maps and charts published regularly by Artprice ( accurately state which are and especially which are not the areas favorable to the production and consumption of contemporary art.

Globally speaking, artistic values ​​have their commercial counterpart in the economic values of the spaces of geographical origin or other consumer areas. An artistic value can be commercially converted by the market of origin, if there is local demand, or by the global consumer market, where there is power of investment and commercial reporting to that value.

Depending on the economic power, one can distinguish the major markets, with an appetite for economic investment, usually in cultural and artistic expansion, through the products offered to consumption (including on minor markets). The major market serves a physically expanded area, exceeding its national and geographical boundaries, both through production and especially through consumption. Minor markets stand out as markets where consumption is greater than domestic production can support, and this profile actually creates them. Thus, they these become outlets for major markets.

Exporting and importing culture develop in this twentieth century a global economy of values and expand ​​beyond the primary level of cultural diplomacy, which ensures knowledge and reciprocal politically correct recognition of the cultures from different geographical areas.

The emergence of minor markets gives them the title of emerging markets. They become interesting for major markets, through the especially speculative alternatives of short-term profits that they can provide. Typically, new emerging markets overlap with emerging economies. By contrast, shrinking markets are markets where the economic capital is relocated to other areas with higher growth potential (see emerging markets).

2)      The economy of cultural and artistic values

In this new economy of cultural ​​and artistic values, the standards of classical culture are in a process of profound redefinition depending on the demand, the production and the distribution of cultural products. The commercial impact of culture and art is without precedent. Art and culture are institutionalized at a public and private level. Art institutions are agents, vehicles through which art is produced, distributed, marketed.

Several types of economies of artistic values can be distinguished. There is an economy of transactions with art objects, an economy of arts services, an economy of derivatives, a copyright economy etc.

By consuming culture, art and media, people get in touch and are exposed to the same messages, they consume the same object, have the same values​​, the same representations, similar knowledge, regardless of gender, ethnicity, religion, level of culture. Contemporary art coagulates the society in communities, maintains their stability and social structures and creates an unconscious solidarity, defined by sociologists and political scientists as a global neo-tribalism5.

VIII. Art institutions as agents

1.      Collectors Museum

Private contemporary art museums have become a catalyst for investment and a guarantee for risk insurance. This guarantee is given by continually adding value to works in museums, by the "heavy rotation" movement in which they are entered.

The speed with which post-capitalist values are ​​established is an effect of the global financial crisis that needs to find alternative areas for financial security such as art and other luxury industries.

Museums of contemporary art, generically called by Hito Steyerl “Global Guggenheim”, serve the same role as the stadiums for sporting events. For an artist to be professional, he must play on these "stadiums" of the art world, whether they are called Guggenheim, MOMA, Pompidou or Tate. A goal scored from a gate made ​​of two backpacks on a green space is like an exhibition in a gallery in Bucharest or Tehran.

The professional peek of an artist’s career is to be exhibited, circulated and purchased by a museum of contemporary art. The museum guarantees the value (risk reduction), creates the landmarks of artistic value and indirectly credits the high growth potential. The "betting agencies" in the art world - auction houses, the public who buys tickets and secondary derivatives such as gadgets, the media industry, the publishing industry and the art books industry are found in synergy when a contemporary artist reaches the peak of his career.

The Museum Trustees or the people in the boards of museums form a network of collectors who contribute through financial donations or art objects to the collections of the museums. The taste, the personal collection and the financial support form a system of interests connecting selected galleries with museums (private collections fuel public museum collections).

2.      The Agency-Gallery

The gallery is the agency that commissions artistic values and guarantees them ​​by associating them with its own brand, which it seeks to strengthen and impose on permanent basis. The gallery works with a portfolio of artists organizing exhibitions and transactions. For most of the galleries, selling works of art also means promotion. The gallery marks the fields of production and the fields of consumption and seeks and finds an audience that reacts to the artistic product. The gallery creates a critical mass of small and medium collectors allowing the artist to continue his career and feeding private collections.

3.      The art dealer

Art dealers are like capital markets brokers, they are people who have contacts and knowledge of the specific market. They may represent different interests (galleries, collectors, private museums). Art dealers do not invest in cultural promotion and are aware of the economic capital, not the cultural one. For them, finding artistic products is done ​​by systems similar to head-hunters. The traded artists’ pool is higher than that of a gallery, and involvement in promoting art is reduced.

4.      Art fairs

By increasing standards, art fairs were positioned at the level of the luxury goods industry. Sets of conditions and filters allow access only to certain galleries and networks of galleries in order to show and sell the production and the artistic portfolios. The transactions in the art fairs, like those of auction houses, aim to maximize profit (increasing economic and cultural capital by circulation and recognition).

5.      Auction houses

Auction houses make up the secondary market segment in which art is sold as it exits the gallery circuit (considered as primary market). The mechanisms of auction houses form, by public sale, the art market quota system. Indexed art market quotas are processed and provide financial tools as the performance of artists and of art works (see The works can get to auction houses through private sale, expropriation, transformation into liquidity etc. The houses do not sell under the market price and seek a significant appreciation per unit traded. Thus, successive resale results in maximizations of the economic and cultural capital. This increase is favored by a closed environment, achieved through careful selection of the works and batch control.

6.      Investment funds and their returns

The collective financial mechanisms of investment management provide a framework for forming and strengthening the artistic value. Each fund has a growth capacity ensured by the strength of the liquidity of art works in a limited period of time (maximizing economic capital through storage and resale at the best moment).

7.      The public

The public of the twenty-first is regarded as a target to be achieved. When a campaign of exhibition is activated, the main target of reporting is, as in any other branch of industry, the financial one. To this there are added other types of indicators: cultural, educational, media, etc.

In quantifying a marketized public, the amount (rather than the quality) of participation in artistic consumption becomes more important. Art consumption is stimulated by large scale events, such as Biennales, art projects in the public space, mammoth museum productions etc. The total visual spectacle, within the tested parameters of the Hollywood model, receives artistic declensions at the level of the budgets. Basically, the entertainment coordinate is one that manages to achieve ambitious targets for tens of thousands of spectators, consumers of artistic events.

8.      The artist

The success of a contemporary artist is the concentrated work of the production field around him, in order to turn him into a registered and controlled brand on the consumer market. This success requires a team specialized in all branches of the main and related activities: production of works, control of works, organizing exhibitions and events with internal and external logistics, monitoring, legislation on contracts and copyright, national and international quotations, presentation in spaces with closed circuit and open circuit, lobbying for awards and scholarships, advertising, media lobbying, the use of public sales tools, fundraising, attracting capital, constant communication with collectors and investors, making productions for the book industry (books, albums, catalogues) and gadgets for the secondary entertainment industry.

At the same time, the power of dissemination and rapid embrace of the patterns by direct imitation shows us the folk component of contemporary art reduced to the industrial control of the artist’s brand.

The transaction price of a work must ensure the costs of the team and of all these activities. Without this whole package of services, which must be financially supported, the artist does not become known and is traded at a lower price, often close to the price of the materials used. The material can also be a factor in assessing the final selling price.

It is known that during the Quattrocento art works costs were quantified in the amount (ounce) of color used, the most expensive being gold, silver and ultramarine blue. Similarly, contemporary art works in precious metals remain the favorite investments in the arts. ("For the Love of God", Damien Hirst, 2007, platinum and diamonds worth 19 million euros, was traded with 75 million euros).

IX. The competition of art market giants

The global crisis of values with all its derivatives echoes in the global art scene and market. The accelerated capitalization of the art market and the industrialization of artistic production are effects of the economic crises of searches for other units of measurement for capital investment, gold or real estate being no longer sufficient in this currency reporting crisis.

The recent interest accelerated by investments in art made possible artistic productions which were gigantic in terms of budget, size and logistics.

One may notice that the contemporary culture follows the general structure of the distribution of wealth in the capitalist world, where 3-5% of the participants have control over and dispose of 70-80% of resources (material and immaterial labor, production budgets, state subsidies etc.)7. Just as in the case of other spheres of human activity, art and culture are dominated by fierce competition principles, forcing the majority to be subject to a struggle for subsistence.

Museum networks are among the largest supporters and beneficiaries of such artistic productions, together with networks of top international galleries. The phenomenon of contemporary art biennale is extended globally (from Ukraine to South Africa).

In times of crisis, these budgets present an impressive increase nourished by the competition of art market giants. The capitalized art market is a good alternative to financial investments in times of crisis. Also, speculation of this economic dimension of art brings new indicators and hierarchies of values similar to those in the sports world. Hyper-productivity ensures huge artistic productions that guarantee emotional shock, in huge events as Biennales, Documenta or Manifesta.

The aesthetic and conceptual value extracted by Duchamp and Warhol outside the scope of the art object breaks the couple art object - artistic value. This separation made it possible to integrate the creation in one of the most financially speculated forms in the history of art. The circulation of contemporary art works shows strong financial ties between all participants in the field of production: art producers, art dealers, gallery, art fair, collector, art critic, auction house, museum, publications, etc. Media publications are also financially related to the artistic values promoted in the art market. The art freed from the object crafted by the artist can be speculated with amazing speed globally, making it a financial vehicle of the rich. The exorbitant prices of contemporary art works such as those of Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst, and Takasi Murakami became inaccessible even for the nouveau riche. The financial value of art has become the attribute of Forbes billionaires and is measured in production budgets and teams constantly engaged in the artist's studio. The circulation of money in art shows how many of these artistic values are exploited in order to bring direct profit to investors and indirect profit of those involved in supporting the entire circuit. The talent is estimated in the artistic quota indexed in specialized publications that calculate with mathematical algorithms expressing the yield per square centimeter in public transactions.

Media participation, PR and marketing are budgeted tools integrated in the artistic production that ensures the curiosity of the public and media interest.

X. Corrupt art

One of the observed effects of the industrialization of contemporary art is that art markets can corrupt the artistic act, in different ways.

The forms and genres of art are financially distorted by the art market. Banksy is the model of such corruptions, by capitalization the pop success of an anonymous street art phenomenon. Behind the name transformed into a successful brand of the "anti" attitude is most likely already a team of artists, PR and communication monitoring transactions and media effects. The huge amounts at which a stencil or graffiti are traded show the anomalies developed by an art market controlled by capital and less by aesthetic values (Bansky's record in a public sale is over 1.5 million euros, "Keep it Spotless (Defaced Hirst) ", 2007).

Most times, the ethics of financial systems does not distinguish between money according to their origin. Likewise, the contracts in the art world maintain the confidentiality of customers, routes and sources of money in order not to provoke issues. Black money gets into the world of contemporary art and is a source of deposits.

Complex systems generate profits and create values by spectacular sales, lobby for awards, exhibitions and residencies, donations of collections, rebuying works of art in auctions etc.

The art market not subject to taxation seems to be safer in relation to the fiscalized financial mechanisms of the giants of the art industry.

The abuses and corruption of cultural managers are new networked phenomena that pervade private and public institutions. There are workers in the creative industries who only benefit from the financial results of their work in a small degree and enjoy the audience points which are not controlled by them, but by the abovementioned systems.

Opacity in the art world can be a sign of corruption or of speculative construction oriented towards financial profit.

Contemporary art is produced, financed and designed for accumulation of surplus - called economic growth. Transforming art into private ownership and profit makes it a product of the elites (i.e. an aristocratic art). Contemporary art forms are thus sophisticated types of social discrimination. In the same way as other products of the luxury industry, huge or eccentric productions of contemporary art have broken the ecological balance with the environment, with responsible consumption and with the ethics of the transaction values.

Hito Steyerl is more radical: "Contemporary art feeds on the crumbs of a massive redistribution of wealth widely, from the poor to the rich, accomplished through a class struggle under way. Guggenheim Global is a cultural refinery for a set of post-democratic oligarchies, as numerous international biennales are responsible for the upgrading and reeducation of the growing population. Thus, art facilitates the development of a new multi-polar geopolitical distribution through the engagement of often ruined economies, fueled by internal unrest, by class conflict, by radical shock and policies of awe. Thus, contemporary art not only reflects but actively intervenes in the transition to a new world post - Cold War. It is a major player in the unequal promotion of pseudo capitalism (...).”6

XI. Alternative systems to the main markets for contemporary art

Emerging markets in Eastern Europe

Emerging art markets of Eastern Europe still face the historical bottlenecks of the lack of free markets during the communist period, in which the State was the sole sponsor and purchaser of artistic productions. The art trade was restricted to some antique art shops and ranked as prohibitive because it belonged to the "bourgeois social class". The communist period left long-lasting marks by denying the commercial role of the artistic product, understood with a pejorative role, and without aesthetic value. The lack of economic value of the art object made it available to be loaded with historical value, with a propaganda or counter-propaganda role. Thus, the contemporary art of the Eastern Europe is profoundly marked historically but has a disastrous financial report.


There are activist groups such as ArtLeaks7 that make the purpose of contemporary art to expose the myth that there is no alternative to the global capitalist system and that critical thinking is corrupt. They reconsider the world without the domination of profit and exploitation, from the micro-political and micro-economic level in the analysis of relations and human creation. The economic, political, intellectual and creative empowerment should not be linked to capitalist or communist political structures.

People freed from faith in religion trust science and various disciplines which analyze the world critically. The specialization in the capitalist society places knowledge in the service of the dominant social classes, say the people from ArtLeaks. Individual research serves private interests; therefore research based on critical discourse is not institutionally supported. In principle, critical knowledge should not be comfortable and should be distributed in institutionalized educational systems. Social classes are not structured as bourgeoisie and proletariat. As it evolved, this couple may be reexamined in the antagonism labor and capital. Transforming society reconfigured the productive powers which now require a critical rethinking of strategies and objectives.

Contemporary art is a creative space without geographical spatial identity. However, it is taken into account when it is produced by the world powers or super-powers: the art created in the twenty-first century in Kyrgyzstan or in other countries that do not have pavilions at the Venice Biennale, for example, is not an active part in the global history of contemporary art.

One may note that only mature markets and art scenes can financially lift creative persons to impose themselves to a wide audience and to a specialized one, of professionals. The options to improve this model can come from within it, by anarchic forms such as strikes, criticism, deinstitutionalization, piracy, etc. (not encouraged) or from the outside, from areas not yet exploited by civilization and cultural industrialization (Eastern Europe, Central Asia, emerging countries etc.).

Deinstitutionalized institutions

One of the institutions pirated and deinstitutionalized offering the power of example and a case study is the Biennale de Paris ( It is an unusual biennale: after being founded by Andre Malraux in 1959 and abandoned by the French public institutions, its brand was registered and relaunched in 2000 by a team of artistic activists.

The Biennale de Paris has kept its name and develops a set of artistic processes, which do not have the cyclical rhythm of a biennale, are not organized as a unique curatorial project, do not have a national space or targeted and fixed audiences. The biennale records various artistic processes (political, economic and ideological), of non-institutional type, in the very place where they are made ​​- anywhere in the world, and communicates them in its publications, which are also irregular.

The efforts of the biennale are to deinstitutionalize art and to reject the use of the art object, believed to have become alienated because of the art market. The biennale attempts to redefine art by using criteria reluctant to the idea of an artist in its traditional form (by the manufacturer in the market, surrounded by its field of production). The Biennale de Paris refuses to participate in what is conventional in the art world today. Blending genres, exploring the boundaries and practicing the redistribution of roles, the Biennale de Paris allows art to arise with accuracy especially where it is not expected.

Alexandre Guriţă, the director of the Biennale de Paris, defines the art market as a primitive, barbaric market, centered on the art trade. In his opinion, the art market should be centered on the services economy and the social economy. Guriţă proposes a "provider art" in which artists work under employment contracts and collaborate with society. These types of events developed by artists in a collaborative way are defined by the Director of the Biennale de Paris as "invisual artistic practices". These practices develop creative services and not art objects. And the effects of art are actually the end product of the artistic act.

According to Alexandre Guriţă, artists must participate in meetings in public and private institutions and companies that need restructuring, providing views and solutions different from those of experts in the field.

The Biennale de Paris is an example in the reverse direction, meaning that the artist is the one who recovers an institution; the institution does not recover the artist, as it usually happens. It is a biennale with no imposed theme, no curator, and no spectator. Art institutions can be reformulated based on artistic practice that questions the foundations of art. Art should not be institutionalized by the Ministry of Culture, a legatee, a regulating factor in the arts and the infrastructures of the cultural arts systems.

The terminology of art is associated to the practices of the Biennale de Paris to reopen the investigation of new terms to redefine the new artistic practices. An example of a redefined artistic activity is the artist Elisa Bollazzi, concerned with the development of an artistic exhibition project consisting of micro-collections of broken fragments that belonged to famous art objects. These physical fragments of other works of art are thoroughly indexed  and stocked beginning from the time they were (at the limit of legality) decomposed and taken from museums or public spaces. By mixing these fragments, she makes up her own work of art, after an original concept.

Economy of sharing, collaborative consumption, Fair Trade

Contemporary art, exploited and absorbed by the financial systems can still search for its resources in other concepts such as the economy of sharing, collaborative consumption or fair trade, whose essential feature is the trust between individuals.

These new social and economic phenomena refer to markets built on contributory participation among individuals: "peer-to-peer markets" (already known and commonly used concepts such as ZipCar, Airbnb, CouchSurfing or eBay).

This material is used as a starting point for discussions on the current system of contemporary art. The recording of debates in various cultural areas will add to this material to create a subsequent book.

Thank you for all comments, live or at [email protected].Cosmin Năsui, Oana Năsui



1. Ana Bobirca, Alina Draghici, Sorin Dumitrescu, „Measuring Creative Economy– Case study: Romania”, Romanian Economic Journal, 2009

2. DCMS (2001), Creative Industries Mapping Document 2001 (2 ed.), London, UK: Department of Culture, Media and Sport

3. Florin Colceag,

4. Pierre Bourdieu, The Rules of Art, Art Publishing House, 2012

5. Michel Maffesoli, Robert D. Putnam, web sourse

6. Hito Steyerl, Politics of Art: Contemporary Art and the Transition to Post-Democracy, 2010

7. Art leaks, web source

Cosmin Nasui