The online version of the catalogue text by Zsuzsa Laszlo extended with links.
With its title topic “art as gift”, Periferic 8 questions how values are created within the art world and how artworks are modeling economic systems. The question is obviously self-referential as well, since Periferic itself is an institution which seeks to create and gain value. The globalization of the art field, as manifested in the proliferation of international art biennials, follows the free-trade principle of global capitalism. On the contrary, such international art events that are organized in post-communist countries with rudimentary art markets can convert their local traditions of underground counter-cultures that are functioning completely independent from market principles into highly significant critical approaches to the economy of art.
The intriguing aspect of value creation is that it can be interpreted somewhere between market and institutional theory. In classical institutional theory the question was how an everyday object becomes a work of art if it is placed within an art institution. As long as it was considered art, its value was not questioned. However, even if the borders of the art world cannot be drawn clearly, there is still a problem concerning how its inside is structured. The traditional distinction between high and low (popular) art became highly ambiguous, context dependent and outdated when based on technical, thematic factors. Within the art world, art is a simple currency and there is nothing lofty about it. The everyday and subjective experience is that there is good art and bad art, there is mediocre, uninteresting, revolutionary, critical, engaged, superficial and fashionable art – a versatility of value assignment rarely addressed by art theory. There are artists who are invited to much more and more prestigious exhibitions than others and there are galleries and institutions whose reputation is clearly much higher than that of smaller exhibition rooms in the countryside. Some curators are invited to organize huge international shows with lavish budgets, while others work for free out of enthusiasm, and others take jobs in half-dead museums.
This slippery quality, a kind of value association, a multi-dimensional hierarchy, stands between the de-contextualized aesthetic and market value. The three-fold, indirect correspondence between aesthetic quality, the above described fame – or reputation value, and commercial success was probably first measured by the Capital magazine’s Kunstkompass initiated by Willi Bongard. Since 1971 the magazine compiles yearly a list of the best 100 artists who are the ones who get the most points according to the exhibitions and purchase of their works in the most established western art institutions as well as the reviews on them in leading international art press. Online databases like artfacts.net can show as well that contemporary art has many successful trends whose success can be measured independently from auction prices. Artfacts.net assigns value to the activity of 127154 artists worldwide, according to the international art institutions (collections, galleries) they are affiliated with and the exhibitions they participate in.
This approach is much more democratic than that of Kunstkompass, but the importance of institutional critique, personal international network, and collaborations stay invisible in this system.
The special thing about the economy of art is that it is a self conscious economy in which producers can initiate reforms and criticism. This gives the whole art world the possibility to rely on market economy, and simultaneously defy and undermine it. To say yes and no at the same time. Saying no, burning or giving away money and valuables, defying or inflating – for instance with multiples – the merchandisable artifact of special value is surely an indispensable and sometimes overlapping part of the art world as the “yes” of museum gift shops.
The author receives Ernő Kállai Grant from the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture.
Links to related posts:
1 A comprehensive study on the globalization of the art field: Larissa Buchholz and Ulf Wuggenig: Cultural Globalization between Myth and Reality: The Case of the Contemporary Visual Arts. In: Artefact, Issue 04, 2005.
2 It was George Dickie (Art and the Aesthetic: An Institutional Analysis, Cornell Univ. Press, Ithaca, N. Y., and London, 1974.) who first described art independently from the qualities of the art object. In Arthur C. Danto’s The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: a Philosophy of Art, (Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1981) the distinction between an everyday object and an art work was the central issue, while Howard S. Becker: Art Worlds, (Berkeley: University of California, 1982.) deals with Mavericks, Folk Artists and Naïve Artists but still describes a standard art world as a universal system disregarding any regional or social particularities. Another important author of institutional theory is Pierre Bourdieau, who mainly concentrates on the unequal distribution of symbolic, cultural capital based on social class and economic differences among others in the Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste, London: Routledge, 1984.
3 For instance Herbert Gans: Popular Culture and High Culture. An Analysis and Evaluation of Taste, New York, Basic Books, 1974, or Lawrence W. Levine: Highbrow/Lowbrow: The Emergence of Cultural Hierarchy in America, Cambridge, Harvard University Press, 1988.
4 K Foundation Burn a Million Quid: in which K Foundation (Bill Drummond and Jimmy Cauty) burnt one million pounds in cash on the Scottish island of Jura. The event was recorded and the video was toured around the UK inviting the audience in debate about the burning and its meaning. This action was preceded among others by K Foundation art award, which was £40,000 – the double of Turner Prize – given to the worst artist of 1993. The award was advertised using newspaper ads imitating a public vote for the same shortlist as the one for Turner Prize that year. The winner of the K Foundation prize was Rachel Whiteread, also the same as that of the Turner Prize.
5 The Swiss artist Christoph Büchel (born in Basel, 1966) with Gianni Motti made an exhibition in Zürich Helmhaus hiding a check of 50,000 SFR, the exhibition budget, to be found by the public. Another project of his reflecting directly on the economy of art was to auction on ebay his right to participate in Manifesta, which was bought by Sal Randolph for 15,000 USD
Filed under: value research | Tags: art vs. economy, Art's economy, rankings
The following interview was made with Marek Claassen, the director of artfacts.net and served as a starting point for an online research and a series of interventions with the purpose of giving higher visibility to the participants of Periferic 8. The results of this intervention can be viewed at .
Zsuzsa Laszlo: How do you define the role of artfacts.net within the art world?
Marek Claassen: We introduced a quantitative method to measure how much an artist is embedded in the international art world. We start with long term relationships between artists and galleries or collections that represent them. These are very strong commitments that last very long. We count the number of countries and the number of collections and galleries. And then we look at solo and group shows. The more international artists a gallery or a museum has, the more its exhibitions value. Let’s say that we have an institution like Tate Modern where thousands of artists are collected. If you have a solo show there you get all the points from these artists and your rank will go up extremely. Biennials, group shows work like collections, their value is based on the artists whose works they show. So if there’s an Andy Warhol its value goes up a lot.
ZSL: Is this the secret of success? Do curators have to place works by Andy Warhol and other very famous artists next to the ones they would like to promote? Can these strategic exhibitions create real recognition revealing the true mechanism of the art world or do they just momentarily deceive the system?
MC: You can play the same tricks with google: by mixing famous and unknown names you can attract attention. We are in a time where there is so much information everywhere that you have to orientate yourself somehow. So even if it’s a minor work, if Andy Warhol is related somehow to the subject of the exhibition it means that many people can relate to it too.
ZSL: Can you also monitor the significance of artist run spaces, residency programs or street art?
MC: We have to make hard compromises. If we had more employees, we could go deeper, and have millions of items creating a clearer picture of the peripheries of the art world. Another factor is that we only register places that are completely dedicated to art. So we don’t include exhibitions in bank branches or restaurants in our system. Banksy for instance is right now ranked only 9913 although he is very famous and I like him a lot. But he only has 15 exhibitions, which shows that he is not so much appreciated among established curators.
We introduced major changes in last autumn because we received many calls and emails from smaller galleries and artists exhibiting in biennials. Now we give bigger weight to curated shows without a collection. We will fine-tune the system now and then. It is related to the number of data we have. When we started we only had 20 000 exhibitions whereas now 130 000 are in our system. We get more and more embedded in the art world so we can get better feedback and we can reflect on it. In the end, it is only a mathematical description of the art world.
ZSL: However globalized the art world is, I think it is still a utopia – though a very ambitious and heroic one – to represent the whole world, everything what is happening in contemporary art.
MC: Our ranking is something that is good to know about, but it is not to be followed blindly. Another aspect is that anyone can have an influence on the system and can change the picture. A new feature of ours is that you can submit data. The computer is not a snob, does not know what’s Tate Modern and does not have prejudice for a gallery in Africa, so the machine handles everything the same way. That is why artfacts.net is an argument. 20 000 people are using artfacts.net over 200 times a week, many professionals look at it, many art fairs use our data.
ZSL: So artfacts.net could help professionals to see how a certain exhibition or biennial can affect artists’ carriers. What could be even more interesting is to see how and according to what factors the “value” of galleries and biennials is changing. How are the centers and peripheries of the art world evolving and disappearing?
MC: Biennials function in our system like collections, they receive their value from the participating artists. Venice Biennial values so much because the artists chosen by the countries are usually already well-known. Rank is only based on the number of points. Probably it is more interesting to look at the rising factor: how much someone’s rank changes.
Biennials often present emerging artists. In the case of the 2005 Beijing Biennial there was no selecting committee, in the communist fashion organizers wrote to the artist associations in each country to send one artist. They sent artists who were best represented in these associations but not best from a curatorial point of view. Many such artists appear only once in artfacts.net because they are teachers or interior designers but after one such show they don’t do anything again on this level.
ZSL: I think it’s not only about the level of their activity. It is a new phenomenon that curators tend to involve in their shows: not only artists, but curators or professionals from other fields. These participants, of course, won’t be collected or represented by galleries. Artists also often do curatorial work which affects greatly their carriers but that would be difficult to include in such a system. Manifesta 7 is a very good example for all these situations where curators and participants seem interchangeable in several cases.
MC: There’s a similar discrepancy between the auction prices and our ranking. An Asian art magazine asked us to do a ranking for Asian artists. Artprice.com was invited as well, but they only had Chinese painters in their system, while our ranking started with Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, mainly installation and fluxus artists. 80% of the private collectors want oil paintings but many of these artists vanish because they are not accepted in the curatorial environment. There’s a big hype for Chinese paintings, people spend millions on it, but it is just design. Artfacts.net reflects the curator’s point of view. However, if we go deeper down in the art world to smaller galleries and less established artists who may still be very important regionally, it gets blurred.
ZSL: Yes, it is surly blurred in Eastern Europe. Is it because this region is not communicating well enough or because regional significance is very different from the international one?
MC: First we focused on our member galleries (who pay for their membership) because we have to have money from somewhere to be able to pay our employees, but then lots of people complained saying that you can’t do a valid ranking when you prefer the people paying you. So we stopped this, we only enter the data of our clients first, but then we process the others as well. However, we have to be careful because we are not only a program magazine, we build our ranking on these data. A show in our system can be seen like a hammer price in an auction. Nowadays maybe 5-10% of our data is mistaken, but we try to do our best, one day we find them (the mistakes). It is another question that in certain countries there is no functioning art world. Like in India, many artists can sell their works to collections, but don’t have shows.
ZSL: These artists usually only get famous abroad. It is true for Eastern Europe as well.
MC: In the art world you have to be a gypsy. There have always been centers in the art world: Rome, Paris, New York, maybe Berlin as well. So you have to go to such places. My opinion is that you are only professional, also as a curator or anyone in the art world, when you live from it, when you don’t have any other income.
ZSL: It is also so because “western” curators are always searching for new names, emerging artists unknown but still meaningful, for economic and commercial reasons, and also being aware of post-colonialist criticism. However, if you take an important international art magazine, almost all of the exhibition reviews are from Western Europe and North America so these non-Western artists only remain export specialties and cannot make an international reputation staying in their own cultural context. Proliferating biennials in Near- and Far-East probably will counter efficiently this bias while Eastern-Europe, Hungary for sure, is yet to find forceful strategies to be on the map of the international art world.
MC: It’s like in the sports world where clubs buy and sell players to be able go one league up. In the primary art market price can only go up. If an artist is not selling galleries do not lower the price, they drop the artist. There is only one way and this is up, if you don’t go up you are out. You can drive taxis, change profession, you are out of the system. I tell you this is why the art world is a big attraction to ruling nations with a huge middle class. 95% artworks sold are for 5000 dollars. The great majority is not buying Van Goghs or Richard Prince photographs of cowboys for a million dollars. The average lawyer and doctor buy art in their local galleries. And if a country doesn’t have middle class it has a zero chance to build up its artists. The basis, a big number of galleries is missing. It’s no good either when artists are subsidized by the government. You can see what happened in Holland: artists stop working, they have fix salaries and they don’t have to really care any more.
ZSL: Isn’t the situation different in the case of artists who don’t produce objects that can be easily included in the art market?
MC: Just look at Christo, his land art is unsaleable but he is still represented by 63 commercial galleries and 62 public collections. You have to make an artifact for your collector. A collector is like a lover, admirer. You have to give them something let it be a limited number of golden dvds, and they will appreciate it. They will lift you up, talk about you and invite all their friends to show them your work. You have to have artifacts, even in extreme cases like Banksy, they sell the walls of these houses. But if there is a dictator who thinks that certain art should be promoted it won’t work, whatever money is invested. In such countries the art world will die out.
ZSL: In Hungary and Romania curators are struggling a lot to get state money for projects that are not immediately compatible with the art market. At the same time in Western Europe and the US there are many state institutions and private funds that finance non-market art projects. In Venice Biennial or Manifesta huge amounts of state money are spent and the difference between various countries’ capacities is quite obvious. Collectors only come later, when artists get established.
MC: Still, you have to make sure you find collectors and you always have to go where your art is appreciated by private collectors. To do a state funded show is a kind of pedagogic approach. If your art is so good that it should leave a footstep in the history then you have to do networking to as many people as you can, to have many people who can carry your idea, otherwise it will become forgotten. There might be exceptions but statistically this is a way, and we have to face that your show will certainly have a bigger influence in New York than in Senegal. This is how the art world is functioning. If you do good, you should speak about it.
The author receives Ernő Kállai Grant from the Hungarian Ministry of Education and Culture.
A Croatian artist, Andreja Kuluncic, made a series of public works in the bus-shelters of Frankfurt a Main in 2002 during the Manifesta 4 exhibition which portrays artist from various European countries (her fellow exhibitors in Manifesta 4), along with the average salary of the artist country of origin. We can also find out how much money the given artist is earning via his/her direct artistic conduct.
One might wonder if the complex network of social interactions and creative production we call art needs to to be measured on how much impact it might take. The Americans for Art association survey, titled Arts & Economic Prosperity III: The Economic Impact of Nonprofit Arts and Culture Organizations and Their Audiences might contain pretty large figures, and sentences like: “Nationally, the nonprofit arts and culture industry generates $166.2 billion in economic activity every year”, but these figures tell a little on their own about the real power and magnitude of this field. A convenient question might be, if how does these figures relate to the national GDP?
In the comming days, Gregory Sholette will visit to Budapest after his participation in the Iasi Biennial, and during his seminar in the Tranzit Free Scchool of Theory and Practice , he will give a detailed presentation of his concept of contemorary art, economy and the notion of gifting, titled: Interventionist Art, Dark Matter, and the Rise of Enterprise Culture. The event will be fully covered in this research blog. Stay tuned for the posts in the weekend.
Filed under: Art as Gift Research blog
He was raised in a middle class family and started his career as grocery shop assistant, – just to later become a prominent manufacturer. Founded anonymously dozens of cultural institutions, including libraries, universities, and donated his collection of contemporary art works to the public, which nowadays serves as of the most prominent national collection of our times, named after him.
Who was he?
Some other texts I came by:
An excellent article by Ryan Griffis, the Gift(wrap)ing New Media (in an Authentic Chilkat Blanket) published in the Noema magazine. A very intelligent summary on the issues of networked culture, gift economy and contemporary art/activism, I would highly recommend to read it. Let me quote a small section of the text:
The problem, or rather my problem, is that this “gift economy” that exists in a fairly contained portion of a capital-based infrastructure is being rhetorically universalized. While I would usually respond, “What’s wrong with a universalized gift economy?”, it seems that this gift economy, though beneficial to many areas of independent research, production, and distribution, can also become a tool for marginalization and even suffocation of independent cultural forms.
I would also recommend to read the book Free Culture by Lawrence Lessing, it is available to download from the website. An interesting reading, indeed.
And again, if you missed the Subsol index arcicles, take your time and read trough some of them.
I have stumbled upon this website – The Foundation for P2P Alternatives – during my research, maybe it might add something to the issue of gift-economy and peer-to-peer based exchange of intellectual properties.
The articles The Peer To Peer Manifesto: The Emergence of P2P Civilization and Political Economy and the P2P Economic Potential As An Alternative Production Approach are both interesting articles by Michel Bauwens, who is the co creator of the documentary movie Technocalyps, which I also recommend to watch if you manage to get a copy (torrent?).