Student Blog: TIAMSA Conference 2018 – Section 3: “Elites and the People” by Theresa Auer

The last panel on the second day of the 2018 TIAMSA conference addressed a very promising topic: “Elites and the people” in relation to the contemporary art market. Even though Friday’s schedule was tight and demanding, the audience still seemed passionate to follow a very interesting discussion.

Stoyan Sgourev (ESSEC Paris) presenting ‘The Bifurcation of the Art Market. Precedents and Consequences’ at the 2018 TIAMSA Conference in Vienna

Santiago González Villajos began the section by presenting his research on the development of street art and its deepening relations with the art market. The beginning of his talk focused on the transformation of graffiti to street art and ‘intermurals’. According to Villajos, street art can be interpreted as an evolution of graffiti, a practice which started in the 1970s. Graffiti is inseparably connected with its value to the Hip Hop communities of cities like Philadelphia, Chicago and Los Angeles. The emancipation of street art away from graffiti, turning it into a form of people’s art, happened in the wake of an ontological shift of practice. Specifically, street art increasingly aimed to create iconic images, whereas graffiti continued to be practised as an aesthetic exploration of letters. Following the presentation of historical developments, Villajos made efforts to explain his research approach to the audience. Nevertheless, many fundamental aspects, for example the definition of the term intermural, left the listeners with open questions.

The second lecturer, Dorothee Wimmer, devoted her paper to the question of whether democratisation caused a boom in private art institutions. Wimmer referred back to the point in European history when collecting art was a matter of state: The state as the “état collectionneur”. According to Wimmer, this approach changed dramatically in the 20th century due to the surge of liberalist ideas which allowed the individual to use art as an investment in regional power. Wimmer went on to analyse the term democratisation and concluded that our society might today have arrived at a state of post-democracy, where democratisation and autocratisation are in disturbingly close proximity. Summing up, Wimmer’s thoughts were demanding but unfortunately not laid out in sufficient detail to allow for a final assessment.

Last but not least, Stoyan Sgourev’s presentation about the bifurcation of the art market turned out to be a worthy conclusion of the day’s last panel. Sgourev offered a lively illustration of the proximity between the art market and the financial sector and concluded that the two sectors are inextricably linked as they operate on similar principles. The crucial point stressed by Sgourev is that the financial sector’s influence on the art market is constantly increasing. He suggested that one possible reason for this development might be the changing profiles of collectors as more individuals with a professional background in the finance industry are taking up collecting. As a consequence, the internal dynamics of the art market start to resemble other Winner-takes-all-industries such as, for example, professional football. Still, the financial sector has a dual impact on the art market, as it reduces the uncertainty in the valuation of art as well as the chronic lack of liquidity. Overall, Sgourev illustrated a thrilling topic in an entertaining way from a socio-economic point of view.

The closing discussion of the third section focused on one crucial question: How do we actually know that collectors buy art as an investment and not for taste, enjoyment or other reasons? After listening to the lively if controversial discussion of this question, I personally think that the idea that everyone can be a potential investor in art opens interesting, more general perspectives. In an environment which is currently changing drastically due to digitization and the daily use of the internet, we might soon observe more relaxed and informal ways of dealing with art and selling it – a development which would surely contribute to a democratisation of art and the art market.

Biography: Theresa Auer completed her master studies of Cultural Science and Fine Arts at the University of Art and Design Linz in 2015 and 2018 respectively. Her personal area of research concerns Sound Art, the theories related to this subject, and the value of the human voice in modern art. She currently lives and works in Vienna.