ISSN: 2511-7602

Journal for Art Market Studies

Sarah Salomon


The current issue of the Journal for Art Market Studies with the subject “Artists on the Market” was prompted by the eponymous international workshop at Technische Universität Berlin in 2015.1 The articles collated in this issue provide a range of perspectives on the relationship between artists and the key actors who are involved in the market for their works. In the first place, these are gallerists, art fair organisers and collectors, but also art critics and journalists at the periphery of the market who are involved in decision-making. The contributions offer case studies ranging from the French and English art market in the nineteenth century to the presentation of Scottish art in Venice at the turn of the twentieth century, and the production conditions and the commercial utilisation of art in the United States and Europe from the 1960s to the present.

In spite of the wide sweep of periods, locations and artistic styles, the articles deal with the same questions. The ambivalence in the relationship between an artist and the market, their (seeming?) contrariness, and simultaneous inseparability have always given food for thought. What are the relations between artists and market players? Which strategies of self-marketing by artists can be observed? Where is the boundary between market strategy and corruption of an artistic oeuvre? What is the correlation between artistic recognition and economic success?

To mention an early example, hundreds, if not thousands of Paris-based artists were forced to confront questions of self-definition and identity in the context of the economic framework of their profession during a sea change in 1776, when they were liberated by royal decree from the guild and thrown onto a rapidly growing and increasinly autonomous art market. Previously binding regulations for training, production and distribution, which had stifled but also structured the profession since the Middle Ages had suddenly become obsolete.2 While the elevation to the ranks of the artes liberales was a welcome step up in the world, any now “free” artist who was not a member of the privileged circle of the academy at that point faced the need to find his own sales channels. Art dealers and exhibition organisers became valuable allies, acting as intermediaries between the artists and their potential client base, but they could also turn into profiteers and draw substantial personal benefit from the new system. Even in the eighteenth century strategies began to be tested which became widespread in the nineteenth century and whose practices and manoeuvres are still in use today.3

Lisa Hackmann‘s contribution is dedicated to the market strategies adopted by one of the foremost French artists of his generation, Paul Delaroche. Marketing of his work and his person overlapped to some extent for this painter, who had become famous for his portraits of the emperor Napoleon. At a turning point in his career, the artist tried to harness the worldwide fascination for the colourful figure of Napoleon Bonaparte in order to tap into new international markets in the 1830s. This was not simply done by copying his own, well-known Bonaparte portraits which were sent on international exhibition tours and sales of their reproductions in print. The press had noted Delaroche’s facial resemblance to Napoleon, which he now enhanced in a series of self-portraits. In this way, Delaroche fuelled international interest in his art by linking himself not only as a painter but also as a person with the legendary ruler.

Ouside the public sphere, Barbara Pezzini explores the relationship between artist and market in an example situated at the shifting borderline between the private and business domain. The connection between the English landscape painter John Linnell and his long-term art dealer William Agnew hovered between business relationship and personal friendship. The article thus investigates the function of the professional art broker, which had become indispensable by the nineteenth century at the latest. It becomes clear that ambivalences in the cooperation between the artist and the dealer are not necessarily the result of diverging positions. Rather, the example of Linnell and Agnew demonstrates fluctuating positions in a web of mutual influences and benefits. The artist might actively pursue the marketability of his work, while the dealer might occasionally prioritise aesthetic values over economic ones.

Marie Tavinor follows the unexpected success story of the group of Scottish artists who became known as the “Glasgow Boys” at the Venice Biennales of 1897 and 1899, which demonstrates the mutually beneficial relationship between artists and market players. Apart from the artists themselves, the organisers of what was then a relatively new Biennale had considerable interest in not only showing established art but also in building delightful suprises into the event. The initiative to form an artist movement which had gained traction in Glasgow during the preceding years was taken up by the Biennale curators, who actively marketed the Scottish painters as a unified artistic brotherhood, regardless of their differences in style. The success of the strategy becomes particularly apparent in comparison with noted contemporary English painters who were presented less prominently and received less press coverage, which had a detrimental effect on their sales results.

The selection of works and orchestration of attention generated in the context of public exhibitions also form a central element in the article by Jonathan Maho. Based on the Mapplethorpe archive which has been accessible at the Getty Research Institute since 2013, the author offers a new perspective on the development of the artists’s oeuvre, his perception by the public, and his marketing. It becomes clear that Mapplethorpe’s career was founded on a selective biography of his oeuvre, where the popular and saleable still lifes and portrait photographs secured his reputation and market success, while his sexually explicit images were withheld from the public by gallerists wary of criticism in the 1960s and 1970s. A preference initially demanded by the gallerist subsequently became an integral part of the artist’s own strategy. It was not until the 1980s that the by then established artist could present this hitherto hidden complex of work relatively freely, and publicise it under the “censorship” label. However, the long pursued separation of different work groups has had a lasting effect on the reception of Mapplethorpe’s oeuvre to this day.

Rather than the marketable selection of works, the rupture between an artist and his work and the resulting consequences for the art market since the late 1960s form the focus of Martin Hartung‘s article on Sol LeWitt‘s Wall Drawings. These were no longer made by the artist himself, but could be created on a wall, or removed, by the purchaser of a certificate in accordance with the artist’s directions and at the purchaser’s discretion. In this liminal area, where the (sales) object becomes increasingly dematerialised and the figure of the artist himself is fundamentally questioned, both the art market and the collector needed to find a new framework to determine value. Nevertheless, the originally provocative act directed at market players, especially dealers and collectors, ultimately turned out to be a highly successful commercial model for art.

In art history, the relationship between an artistic idea or concept and its execution has long been the focus of research. The contribution by Franz Schultheis which concludes the issue explores the subject from a sociological perspective and gives insights gained during a current field study by the institute for sociology at the university St Gallen (Switzerland). The research was prompted by the growing phenomenon of extensive workshops employed by commercially extremely successful artists such as Damien Hirst or Jeff Koons. Increasingly disconnected from the actual artistic process of creation, they are the by-product of a type of “artist-entrepreneur” who is no longer present when his works come into being. He pays specialists for their production while he focuses instead on the promotion of his brand name. Other than in artist workshops from early modern times to the nineteenth century, these are not training centres but outsourced production sites, where the artist often may not even put a final touch on the work or oversee the manufacturing. The interviews with employees of such art production companies conducted by the author and his colleagues offer a glimpse into these production methods of art without an artist.

Translation: Susanne Meyer-Abich

1 See

2 On the change from craftsman to artist see for example Nathalie Heinich, Du Peintre à l‘Artiste. Artisans et Académiciens à l‘âge classique (Paris: Paradoxe, 1993).

3 See for example Alexis Joachimides, Verwandlungskünstler. Der Beginn künstlerischer Selbststilisierung in den Metropolen Paris und London im 18. Jahrhundert (München/Berlin: Münchner Universitätsschriften des Instituts für Kunstgeschichte, 2008); Oskar Bätschmann, Ausstellungskünstler. Kult und Karriere im modernen Kunstsystem (Köln: DuMont, 1997).