Thursday, April 11, 2013

‘Markets’ shaped the 20th century art

If David W. Galenson is to be believed, what most art historians haven’t grasped is the fact that 20th-century art practices were vastly distinct from all earlier art forms largely owing to a drastic change in the market for advanced art, which occurred during the late 19th century. A competitive market didn’t come into existence immediately.

In fact, it took quite a while for collectors and dealers to follow that the works of art by innovative younger painters could be an excellent investment. The author argues ‘markets’ are what indeed make the 20th century art different from all other earlier eras and those, who succeeded in changing styles frequently and inventing genres, have reaped the greatest rewards.

Looking to give a dramatically different and peculiarly unconventional interpretation of 20th-century art, ‘Conceptual Revolutions in Twentieth-Century Art’ authored by David W. Galenson tries to explain why and how artists, their practices and works are distinct from all the earlier art produced. The book claims to deal with a vexing issue of contemporary culture as why much of contemporary art is so bizarre, apparently missing the previous eras’ stylistic coherence.

An Economics professor at the Chicago University, Galenson has authored ‘Painting Outside the Lines’ and has edited ‘Markets in History’. He has also extensively published in leading volumes like the Journal of Economic History and Journal of political Economy. Apart from acting as a Contributing Editor to The Art Economist magazine, he has served as an Academic Director of the Universidad del CEMA’s Center for Creativity Economics, and has been associated with the National Bureau of Economic Research’s Research Associate.

To him, markets distinguish the 20th century from all other earlier phases when artists would create works for wealthy patrons generally in the church or the court that functioned as a monopoly. It was only in the 20th century that art entered ‘free’ marketplace and turned a commodity. In this new democratic system, breaking the rules emerged as the most precious attribute. “Important artists are innovators whose work changes the practices of their successors,” the art expert concludes, “The greater the changes, the greater the artist.”

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