Thursday, July 18, 2013

A study of factors that determine art price mechanism

Serving as Associate Professor at the Department of Sociology and Anthropology of the University of Amsterdam, Olav Velthuis is director of the master programs. He worked for Dutch daily ‘de Volkskrant’ for several years as a Reporter Globalization before opting to study in-depth the emergence/development of the BRIC-countries (Brazil, Russia, India and China) art markets.

His research interests incorporate areas of economic sociology, cultural sociology, sociology of consumption and sociology of art. Velthuis has also penned ‘Imaginary Economics’ (NAi Publishers, 2005) and edited ‘Contemporary Art and Its Commercial Markets A Report on Current Conditions and Future Scenarios’ (Sternberg Press, 2012) with Maria Lind of Tensta Konsthall. His writings have been published in among others the Art Newspaper, Artforum, and the Financial Times.

The art and economics expert has come up with a fascinating analysis and exploration of the approach of key players to find out certain tangible and intangible elements that greatly determine art prices. Of course, ‘Talking Prices’ (Publisher: Princeton University Press: Pages: 288; Price: $24.95) has an academic undertone to it with its price study, for example, focusing more on ‘t-values’ and ‘coefficients’ instead of actual prices, but that’s because the subject demands this data.

The core purpose of the document is to shed further light on the financial facets of art, inquiring ‘how exactly do art dealers price contemporary artworks in a highly skewed and competitive professional world wherein definite objective criteria are seemingly absent?’ The book, which has received the Viviana Zelizer Distinguished Book Award of the American Sociological Association, examines the above question from a deeper sociological perspective.

The author suggests that art prices are not just abstract numbers. Instead they convey richer meanings. A higher price may suggest not only the quality of an artwork but also the status of collectors who have bought it before that artist's credibility was established. Such intangible meanings are far obviously from unequivocal. In a way, this engagingly written narration reveals the curious shades behind the price mechanism.

Calin Valsan of Journal of Cultural Economics notes: “Velthuis' essay is absorbing because it challenges our understanding of economics, culture, and society. Its narrative is stylish and refined; at times the discourse shows craftsmanship and attention to details."

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