Battling Uncertainty: Old and New Experts in the Market for Visual Arts

Sotheby's Art Institute and University of Cambridge Judge Business School organized a very stimulating workshop with a lecture series on the new risks in the art market from multiple perspectives including economists, business folk, art dealers, auctioneers, and media experts: Exploring Risk and Uncertainty: Metaphors from the Art Market Questions about the role of information in valuation, the new sources of knowledge and the management of these sources for assessment, the place of originality of the art in contemporary valuation and more were tackled and discussed. Filip Vermeylen and I presented on specifically intermediaries, from the past to the digital present and the implications new media has in this age old gate-keeping space when it comes to making decisions and evaluations on art value. Battling Uncertainty: Old and New Experts in the Market for Visual Arts Our paper explores the position and purpose of experts in the art world over time. It has been long understood that art theorists, critics, historians, dealers, auctioneers, curators and so forth play a seminal role as intermediaries in a market that features significant information asymmetries and uncertainty. They facilitate exchanges and are instrumental in determining the artistic, social and financial value of a work of art. However, in this digital age, declarations surface on the death of the expert. The intrinsic value of a work of art is not (or no longer) a given, and various new intermediaries, both social and technical, now appear to contribute to and compete in shaping the valuation process. In the context of the art world, questions therefore arise relative to the role of the amateur in the evaluation and validation of art in current times. Do social media level the playing field and can we assume that equity and vastly increased scale in participation results in better judgments? Does online participation on art valuation impact its actual market pricing? In this paper, we contend that the traditional art experts have not necessarily been replaced by these new players, but rather that new voices have been added to the chorus. This said, many issues - particularly those involving trust and art quality - remain unresolved in the contemporary art market.

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