Diversification and Status Signals in the Art World and the Art Markets: A Case of the Fine Art Photography Galleries of New York

By Chan-ung, Park | Development and Society, June 2009 | Go to article overview

Diversification and Status Signals in the Art World and the Art Markets: A Case of the Fine Art Photography Galleries of New York


Chan-ung, Park, Development and Society


Recent studies of the art markets and the art world show the importance of genres, status and identity of organizations such that these can be conceptualized in organizational studies as the issue of niches and status. Organizational studies, however, have not examined cultural organizations like art galleries despite the relevance of niches, status and identity of such organizations. In this study, I focus on fine art photography in New York's fine art galleries to examine how diversification of genres (e.g., photography, painting or sculpture) as the status and niches of these galleries interact with each other in the context of collective mobility of the photography genres. The resource-partitioning theory demonstrates that the degree of market concentration differently affects the survival chance of generalists and specialists. The statusbased theory adds that a high-status organization would be constrained to enter low-status market domains to avoid lowering its status. Combining both theories, status and niche width would influence organizations' survival and consequent distribution of organizations across niches. In this analysis, I show that there is a higher degree of cross-pollination of photography with specific genres such as paintings or sculptures than with other genres, and I discuss several factors on cross-pollination. They collectively enhance the status of fine art photography within the contemporary art world, the interests of collectors from other contemporary art genres, the multi-medium orientation of contemporary artists, and the rise of photography art auctions and art fairs is a new type of markets for photography. At the organizational level, a gallery's status as measured by critical attention of key critics has a U-shaped correlation with its niche width or genre diversification. Based on such correlation, I propose a "status spill-over" as opposed to "status leak" argument, in which high-status organizations selectively enter a lowstatus niche in the process of collective upward mobility of such niche.

Keywords: Art Market, Photography, New York, Status, Genre, Diversification

"Anything but Photo": Genre Diversification, Identities, and Status

In 2006, the New York Times published an article titled, "Anything but Photo" (Gefter, 2006). The article claims that there is a new trend in the New York art galleries in which photography galleries represent non-photographic genres and artists, whereas contemporary galleries increasingly show photographic works. For example, an increasing number of traditional photography galleries exhibit paintings, sculptures, media arts and works on paper. They also show non-photographic works of the photographers they represent. Some galleries started representing artists who do not produce photographic works at all. Also, leading contemporary galleries such as Matthew Marks Gallery or Gagosian Gallery have been exhibiting photographic works and representing photographers. In other words, the distinction between photography and more traditional art galleries has eroded.

Sociological approaches on the arts have focused on the art world as social, political, and cultural domains in which social relationships between key actors and their institutional environments shape artistic innovation, its diffusion and the performance of artists in the art world and the art markets (Alexander, 2003; Anheier, Gerhards, and Romo, 1995; Becker, 1982; Bourdieu, 1992, 1993; DiMaggio, 1982; DiMaggio and Stenberg, 1985; Moulin, 1987; Simpson, 1981; White and White 1965; White, 1993). Such studies suggest that genres and media are categories and boundaries that are crucial in terms of identities and boundaries in both the art world and the art markets (Crane, 1987). Lasting innovations in the arts often take a form of creating a new genre or medium. Contemporary arts have shown works that defy a traditional boundary between different art genres. Genres are still an important basis for boundaries in the art world, however, because they are not only aesthetic formats, but can be the basis for status hierarchy. …

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