Art fairs and power: an investigation into the post-war history of art fairs from radical beginnings to consolidations of globalised power
Kingston University, London
Supervisor: Dr Chris Horrocks
Institutional email: firstname.lastname@example.org
We live in an “art fair age”. Contemporary art fairs have become the dominating platform for the sale and dissemination of art objects in the primary market at their first point of sale. While commercial art galleries are in crisis, struggling to keep empty gallery spaces open and dealing with large overheads in conjunction with fair participation and property rental costs, they need fairs: income derived from these counts today for an average of 60-90% of annual gallery turnover.
If galleries might perceive art fairs as a necessary evil, they are ever more popular both with art buyers (and other agents in the art world ecology) as well general audiences. Art fairs have reflected changes within the art market since their inception in 1967: the 1970s and 1980s growth of the contemporary art world and its markets, followed by globalisation and the curatorial turn, and the dominance of multinational corporations in the 2010s.
My proposed research will be the first in-depth study of the art fair. It aims to define a typology of the art fair, embedding it into the context of other cultural events such as biennales, festivals and other fairs while at the same time delineating them from these, acknowledging the unique context of the art market as dealing with unique, high-value objects or singularities. Importantly, it will offer new perspectives on how art fairs reflect wider societal and economic changes as an embedded agent.
Using a multiple case study system to interrogate crucial markers of the art fair as an organisational field, the framework for the analysis will be through an interdisciplinary approach utilising theories of the institutional field as introduced by Bourdieu and Foucault’s concept of embodied and dispersed power in order to bring transparency into the mechanisms of this most ‘opaque’ of all economic markets.