Delivered a keynote on Automating Culture
The talk was about how the art world has entered the platform economy. The art industry is being subjected to similar fears and possible opportunities of automation as other cultural industries such as the music, film and the publishing business. Hence, it asks some key questions: Can the traditional art intermediaries still compete in the platform economy as data mining companies enter the fray? Has the divide between the high and the popular culture collapsed as user behavior, platform design and engineering staff circulate between these worlds? Do customers no longer care about the aura of the art piece before buying it online? In other words,
...do algorithms rule today and are they making the art world more democratic?
With the rise of automation and platformization, the (TIAMSA) second international conference organized itself around the theme and key question of, “Art for the People? Questioning the Democratization of the Art Market.”
The call reflects some of the contemporary issues and debates taking place in the art world nowadays. The art world and the market have traditionally been the domain of the elites and have thrived on exclusivity. However, the art world has arguably become much more democratic in recent years thanks to the digital revolution, the inclusion of emerging economies in the world art market system, and the vastly improved access to art and information. The price histories of works of art can nowadays easily be reconstructed using online databases; the threshold for art buying is significantly lowered by online sales platforms; and new buyers in emerging economies are making the art market much less Western-oriented. Moreover, an ever broader range of artworks in different price categories has put (fine) art within reach of the middle classes across the globe. At the same time, art institutions such as museums are under tremendous pressure to be less exclusive. Some of these democratizing tendencies are of course not new. For instance, publishing houses in Europe started disseminating prints on a massive scale already in the sixteenth century, thereby enabling larger segments of the population to acquire images. Whether or not the internet and globalization are genuine game changers in the contemporary art world, we can assume that new platforms through which art is mediated – both offline and online – are reconstituting the manner in which art is being viewed, valorized, acquired and enjoyed. These developments could have far reaching implications.
TIAMSA’s second annual conference explored to what extent the art market was affected by comparable developments in the past, how it is embracing today’s democratic potential, and at what cost. Are digital innovations, from search engines and big data analytics to virtual auctions, transforming the long-existing modus operandi of the art world and the traditional structure of the art market? And if the art market is indeed living up to its democratic promise, is it also becoming less opaque and therefore more transparent?
This event was held in Vienna from Thursday 27 Sept – Saturday 29 Sept 2018. It was the result of a joint collaboration of the Belvedere ResearchCenter, the Dorotheum and the Department of Art History at Vienna University. The conference presented a selection of papers approaching the theme from different, fascinating viewpoints, and combined it with two special events, namely a guided tour of Viennacontemporary, Austria’s international art fair, and a tour of the Belvedere Research Center. There was also a round table on the art market and the internet.