Through a Screen, Darkly: Exploring Media Representations of the Art Market during 2010-2019
Over the past decade, since the 2008 economic recession, the art market has undergone a seismic shift. On the one hand, as of 2018 the global art market currently represents a $67.4 billion share of the economy. On the other hand, self-regulation has been largely ineffective, with calls for greater transparency and concerns over antiquities looting, money laundering, and terrorism financing at the forefront of ongoing discussions. Amidst these changes, interest in the art market across all levels of society has grown and media depictions of the art market have become more prevalent. These depictions have many themes. For instance: Black Panther comments on the restitution of African artifacts taken during the colonial period; Woman in Gold depicts the legal battle over artwork taken by the Nazis in WWII while The Monuments Men focuses on the role played by Allied troops in safeguarding and restituting cultural treasures; Blood and Treasure covers antiquities looting in the Middle East; Riviera demonstrates the link between the mega-rich, contemporary art, money laundering, and private foundations; Velvet Buzzsaw skewers critics and dealers alike in the art fair and gallery scene; Beltracchi: The Art of Forgery and Art of the Heist are among several documentaries covering criminal aspects of the art world; the mockumentary Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable accompanied Damien Hirst’s exhibition of the same name; and so forth. There is even an episode of Drunk History with a humorous version of the infamous robbery at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston. This article will explore the ways media depictions of the art market from 2008 to the present overlap with reality, as well as how and why the two differ. In particular, I am interested in analyzing the perspectives of insiders versus outsiders due to the art market’s recent popularity with non-market participants; i.e., “becoming mainstream.” Both fictional and non-fictional media projects exude a certain allure, even when portrayals are unflattering; but there are also exaggerated aspects that expose preoccupations with participants’ behavior and the market itself. By examining these representations, I aim to illustrate how the art market has permeated global social consciousness and what this tells us about its future and ongoing evolution.
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