On Value by perifericbiennale
October 20, 2008, 2:42 am
Filed under: value research | Tags: ,

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[1], 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[2] 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 The traditional distinction between high and low (popular) art[3] became highly ambiguous, context dependent and outdated when based on technical, thematic factors.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 can show as well that contemporary art has many successful trends whose success can be measured independently from auction prices. 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.


Why Did The K Foundation Burn A Million Quid?

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[4] or giving away[5] 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:

Interview with Marek Claassen

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


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