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A Social-Topography of Art Basel: Hierarchies in the Global Art Market

2013-10-03 , Mazzurana, Thomas , Schultheis, Franz

The paper applies Pierre Bourdieu's theory of interactions between socially and physically acquired space to Art Basel, which, as the "Art Olympics", represents the wealthiest sector of the art world in terms of symbolic and economic capital, and is generally considered the most important art fair. Art Basel represents a temporal and spatial concentration of the global art market. Here the hierarchies, positions and structures of the field of the galleries are reflected in the "(An)Ordnung" (Löw): in the configuration of the boxes allocated by the exhibition management and thereby reproduced. The struggle not only for the around 300 exhibitor spaces, but also for the most prestigious locations at the exhibition itself, is outlined by the actors on site in qualitative interviews. At Art Basel, "front row" galleries benefit from their exclusive location, which also helps to generate symbolic capital. Inequality in terms of symbolic capital is reinforced through the inequalities of placing themselves in attractive locations in the space. Galleries "on the fringes" are allocated their space due to their limited capital resources, and at the same time this space results in less opportunity of generating symbolic capital. An initial analysis of Art Basel 2012 shows that galleries from certain countries are able to generate "profit from space" (Bourdieu). The "prime positions" around the circular courtyard are mainly occupied by galleries from the United States and Switzerland. More generally, the centres and peripheries of the global art field are reflected at Art Basel. Through the process of correspondence analysis, these connections are indicated systematically. In addition, qualitative interviews with gallery owners and a questionnaire are incorporated into the social-topographical analysis at Art Basel.