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Kunst und Kapital. Zur Ökonomie symbolischer Güter am Beispiel einer Ethnographie der Art Basel

2016-11-18 , Schultheis, Franz , Mazzurana, Thomas

Art fairs play today a central role in the art market, particularly in the trade of contemporary art. In the wake of the art fair boom since the turn of the millennium, they have grown to become one of the most important sales and marketing channels for art dealers. Through this distribution channel the gallery owners are able to gain access to new markets and reach new collectors. In 2012 for example, 36 per cent of sales by dealers were made through local or international fairs. Our research field is the Art Basel, which, as the “Art Olympics” (New York Times), represents the wealthiest sector of the art world in terms of symbolic and economic capital, and is generally considered as the most important art fair. The Art Basel represents a temporal and spatial concentration of the global art market; for a period of a week the field of art is located in the halls of the Basel Exhibition Centre. It is therefore an ideal field of investigation to examine the structures and dynamics at the top of the global art field. In reference to the sociological work and perspective of Pierre Bourdieu, the world of art is conceived as a field of competition for the monopoly of the legitimate definition of art. As a market of symbolic goods, the field of art is today more than ever confronted with immanent contradictions and paradoxes: since the 1990s new capital-intensive buyers have emerged, recruiting mainly from the world of financial capital; considerable financial resources flow directly from emergent economies in Eastern Europe and, above all, Asia into the market; prices are exploding and power relations between the different groups of actors in the art field are changing rapidly. The focus of interest of the ca. 80 qualitative interviews we made with market actors like art dealers or collectors is on their attitudes and practices in this newly reconfigured art field. In particular the question arises how the relationship between art and commerce, charisma and money, which is increasingly critical and contradictory through current changes in the art field, is addressed, problematized, scandalized, banalized or simply suppressed by the art market participants.