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The Proto-Marketization of Contemporary Art in the BRIC Countries
lundi 29 juin 2015

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Conférence de Olav Velthuis lors du colloque "Quantifier, évaluer, calculer / Pricing Practices, Ranking" organisé par le département de Sciences Sociales et le département d’Économie.

Première session: Prices and Markets

This paper studies the earliest stage in the long, multifaceted process of the formation of art markets. I call this stage proto-marketization because the formal and informal institutions and organizations which enable markets to operate in a stable way, do not exist yet. Empirically, the focus is on India, Russia and China, where markets for contemporary art started developing at different moments in the second half of the 20th century. In spite of the lack of institutionalization, this paper identifies five regularities in the proto-marketization stage. First of all, proto-marketization is characterized by the high involvement of foreigners, who operate as carriers of the very idea that art can be commodified. Secondly, sales come about in spontaneous, serendipitous ways.  Although some of the early foreign buyers already had a taste for art beforehand, they did not go to India, Russia or China in order to put together an art collection but instead frequently stumbled upon art through chance encounters. It was only through these encounters that local artists start realizing that their work had economic value. Thirdly and relatedly, proto-marketization of art is characterized by the disorganized ways in which supply and demand are matched and transactions are conducted. This results from the absence of a legal framework and, in the case of Russia and China, from the government censorship of contemporary art. Fourthly, role models of actors in the era of proto-marketization are hardly developed. What a buyer’s or seller’s identity amounts to, and what type of behavior can be expected of them, is highly uncertain. This in turn impacts the type of transactions which are conducted and the meanings which these transactions have: the proto-marketization stage can be seen as a specific type of Zelizer circuit, in which friendship ties are hardly differentiated from commercial ones and boundaries between market and gift exchange are fluid. Many works of art are not sold by artists, but instead given away to befriended foreign collectors or to local collectors who lack sufficient income to pay high prices. Instead of being mutually exclusive, gift giving and market exchange could be seen as consecutive phases in the emergence of art markets in these countries. A final characteristic of proto-marketization is the absence of shared, stable standards of value. In transactions, artists frequently do not know how much to ask while clients do not know what to offer. Uncertainty regarding the value of the works of art that can potentially be traded, is not resolved yet during this stage. As a result, prices often have a haphazard character. Local buyers in particular are often not able to afford much, and pay no more than symbolic amounts.

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Olav Velthuis
Université d'Amsterdam

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Olav Velthuis est professeur agrégé au Département de sociologie de l'Université d'Amsterdam, spécialisée dans la sociologie économique et culturel, au ministère, il est directeur du groupe de programme sociologie culturelle.

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Dernière mise à jour : 26/10/2015