Branding in the Art World: The Contemporary Visual Artist

By Tomiuc, Anamaria | Journal of Media Research, May 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Branding in the Art World: The Contemporary Visual Artist


Tomiuc, Anamaria, Journal of Media Research


Introduction

In the world of mass consumption, art itself has become a commodity. The history of contemporary art is now written depending on art's integration in the art market while its relation to its audience gets to be highly influenced by this market. We are now facing a new type of reception of the contemporary art that is becoming more and more popular, while the success associated with the art world gets to be similar (on a reduced scale, though) to that associated with other cultural industries. Artists have become celebrities; the art world itself is extremely spectacular, while both insiders and outsiders are strongly fascinated by its aura. For example, Damien Hirst's retrospective exhibition held in Tate Modern London in 2012 has been the most popular solo show in the history of the institution, attracting record-breaking visitor numbers, as well as Jeff Koons' retrospective at Whitney Museum of American Art in 2014, which was the most visited exhibition in 83 years of museum existence, or that of the same artist held at Centre Pompidou in Paris in 2014-2015 which reached 112000 visitors in its first 17 days. In this context, numerous press clips, magazine articles, TV documentaries and academic research try to investigate a series of issues related to this subject, by pointing out the spectacular character, the relation between contemporary art and market economy, particularities of the art world and the value of the art work, PR and marketing strategies and other more. Our interest in this context is related to the "branding" phenomenon that is associated with contemporary art, more precisely to the figure of the contemporary artist. Andy Warhol, Damien Hirst, Tracey Emin, Jeff Koons, Richard Prince, Takashi Murakami are only some of the names that have been referred to as brands. In the same time, Larry Gagosian, Jay Jopling are called branded dealers, Charles Saatchi, Francois Pinault, Bernard Arnauld are seen as branded collectors, while Tate Modern, Guggenheim or MoMa are branded museums. Still, while the mentioned institutions have invested a lot in an institutional branding process, the artists' branding is a consequence of the strategies that are marketing individual personalities as products and of the particular functioning of the art system. Consequently, the present article will question the celebrity status of contemporary artists, the branding mechanisms integrated in the art system, the relationship between the celebrity status and that of a brand and the values associated with the contemporary artists' brands. Two theoretical directions - the theory of the art worlds (Danto, 1964), (Bourdieau, 1998), (Dickie, 1975) (Becker, 2010), the institutional theory of art (De Duve, 1989), (Dickie G., 1984) - constitute the background for this research and provide the tools for the use of the brand term in connection with the figure of the contemporary artist.

The art world - a systemic network

We consider that the world of art presents itself as a vast socio-economic systemic network. A.C. Danto is the first to give a definition to the philosophical notion of "the art world" that includes the communities of interpreters - critics, art curators, artists and collectors - within galleries and museums to suggest that it is impossible to understand conceptual art without the help of this art world. G. Dickie's theory (Dickie G., 1975) states that a work of art becomes art only if it gets the status of potential candidate to the appreciation of the social institution called "the art world". Therefore, any artifact may become art as long as "the art world" decides to call it art: "The work of art, in its classifying meaning, is (1) an artifact, (2) a set of aspects which were given the status of candidate to appreciation by a person or persons acting in the name of a certain social institution (the art world). Returning several years later to the problem of the status of a work of art, Dickie (Dickie G. …

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