Collectors As Curators in Public Arts Institutions? Aesthetics and Market Values in Contemporary Art Worlds

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 14 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Jan MARONTATE, School of Communication, Simon Fraser University, Canada
This paper examines transformations in public discourse about the autonomy and authority of museum professionals in state-funded arts institutions, focusing on recent shifts in attitudes about the power of influential art collectors to shape recognition processes in contemporary art worlds. In the 20th century national and international museum associations worked to enhance the power and status of art experts by insisting on a clear demarcation between aesthetic or ‘scientific’ judgements and economic forces. As Pierre Bourdieu and others have observed this nominal ‘disinterestedness’ served to create belief in the value of art as symbolic goods (which in turn enhanced their economic worth).  Of course controversies did arise about the power of patrons. However when controversies arose about the aesthetic worth of particular artists or artistic genres, the autonomy of curators and other art experts, and their purported distance from market forces was a justification for support for new art forms. The paper examines transformations over the past two decades of attitudes towards the participation of art collectors in public arts institutions through selected case studies of influential traveling exhibitions. It begins with an analysis of debates about conflict of interest in the case of UK-based advertising entrepreneur Charles Saatchi’s participation in the ’Sensation’ exhibition (1997-2000) featuring works from his own collection. It traces transformations in the public representations of collectors’ influence on the content of museum exhibitions, as exemplified by the prominent role accorded by Japanese art museums to Taiwan-based Pierre Tie Min Chen, head of an international electronics enterprise, in the framing and curation of a 2014-15 traveling exhibition.  The paper concludes with a reflection on the changing roles and status of representatives of market forces in public arts institutions and in the social construction of contemporary art worlds more generally.