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‘The re-privatization of the contemporary art world: private collectors and artist-entrepreneurs in the changing geographies of European art’

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - Art market (‘The re-privatization of the contemporary art world: private collectors and artist-entrepreneurs in the changing geographies of European art’)

Reporting period: 2017-01-01 to 2018-06-30

Contemporary art is central to European culture and economy. The funding and making of art are important issues. However, across Europe radical institutional, market and industry transformation has occurred. Within the contemporary art world many state-funded art institutions are struggling with budget cuts at the same time as the agency of private art actors and collectors are becoming more prominent and regaining dominance. Existing private collectors are becoming wealthier and a range of new art collectors and investors has emerged. The rapid expansion of the global art market has meant that art has entered a period of radical institutional, market and industry transformation. Private art collectors and artist-entrepreneurs are now competing with public institutions and the locus of power is moving from public to private actors. Equally artists are increasingly recast, and are recasting themselves, as entrepreneurs. This 18 months project put forward and examined the idea that there is an on-going re-privatisation of the art world. The project critically explored the premise that it is increasingly private art collectors and artist-entrepreneurs who constitute the cultural field, and therefore also drive the complex value creation of artwork.
In short, the project examined the idea there is an ongoing re-privatisation of the European art world, in which increasingly it is private art collectors and communities of artist-entrepreneurs that are creating commercial value in the contemporary art market. The project suggests that this means new critical investigations of agency, value creation and creativity of the art world are needed. This is important because contemporary art is an area of activity that is central to both European cultural and economic development. The thriving European art scene is also a key field within the creative and cultural industries identified as central to Europe’s development and integration by both the Creative Europe strategy and the Europe 2020 strategy.
The overall aim of the project has been to contribute to important non-academic and academic debates over the geography and practice of the art world, by exploring how this rebalancing is changing how and where agency and value creation now takes place. Equally the project has been a training and mobility fellowship and has involved the training and development of an experienced researcher through: a) time spent in one of Europe’s most innovative centres for human geography research; and b) having the time to develop a new intra-disciplinary empirical research project.
The Fellowship involved the research project as well as a program of training and knowledge transfer, and a dissemination plan. The Fellowship program at Royal Holloway was designed to enrich my bridging of economic and cultural geography; engage in work with key researchers embedded in the Social and Cultural Geography research group working on geographies of art, creativity and cultural production; and to help me gain new links and knowledge that I could connect back to my home milieu in Sweden. This engagement was operationalised through participation in SCG’s regular collective research fora, mentoring with Prof. Philip Crang, and collaborative idea generation workshops involving PhD students and other researchers from the host department, as well as representatives from external project partners.
The project was based on four Work Packages (WPs). WP 1 Research programme: this started with an extensive literature review, and then followed with in-depth qualitative research on art milieus and processes. As the project developed initial ideas of how the empirical work should look changed as it became apparent that archival work as well as digital methodologies could shed new light on the issues at the heart of the empirical project. WP 2 Training: Focused on training and skill transfer and involved formal training courses as well as collaborative workshops in London. WP3 Career Development: this was about career development activities assuring the development and transfer of appropriate skills as well as monitoring progress. At its core was the use of mentoring and interaction with the host institution to develop a long-term career development plan. It also involved contributing to the host institution for example by actively engaging with the PhD group and by visiting other academic milieus in the UK (f ex acting an external examiner for a PhD). WP4 Dissemination: this was about specific dissemination and communication activities such as publishing and organising workshops and conferences. In terms of dissemination during the period one article and one book chapter were published and 3 other individual and collaborative publications plus one edited volume on cultural industries and value are in progress.Dissemination has also involved attending and organising conferences and workshops based on the project.
The research progressed beyond the state of the art in two important areas. First, it engaged with an emerging understanding that there is a need for deeper epistemological engagement with and new forms of research on artists’ life worlds, subjectivity and practice, and on the geographies artists live and work in. One particular result in this area was a new focus on the role of memory work in the digital economy and culture: the idea that artists are engaged in a type of emotional labor I approach as memory work. Results have suggested that creating and understanding value in the art world crucially involves active labour in which various actors gather, archive and represent ideas, impressions and emotions. Of course, documenting and recording have long had a central role in art due to the importance of artworks’ provenance and authenticity. But in in the digital age new ways of documenting and recording the world have created new ways for art value to be created as well as new ways for researchers to investigate the practices and spaces of making and value creation. Towards the end of the project an expert workshop was organised in London to examine these ideas and to create a new agenda for research into memory work in the digital age: memory work in general and not just in the art world. This workshop and the resulting network as well as the publications and conference papers planned are primarily focused on this issue from a feminist perspective and will hopefully push forward new feminist methodological approaches that actively work with digital technology and spaces in art and beyond.
Second, research to date has overwhelmingly focused on the producers of art and seldom art’s audience. This project addressed these lacunae in particular by engaging with ideas of the artist entrepreneur and by studying the increasing customer group of art collectors. The results suggest that art collectors are not only increasingly important and sophisticated customers, but they also often develop personal relationships of patronage with individual artists and are increasingly active in constructing exhibition spaces and thereby the institutional and symbolic contexts within art worlds. Collectors are not just customers but active curators and participants in art that we need to include in how we understand and make regional, economic and cultural policy that effects the European art market and world.