Market Chains: Consecration and Creativity in the Market for Modern Art
Book manuscript under contract, Princeton University Press
In this contribution both to economic sociology and to the sociology of culture, I explore the remarkable growth of the art market and its influence on economic success and creativity in the heyday of French modernism. Using network analytical methods and fine-grained business data, I reveal the concrete social organization of market intermediaries involved in the promotion of modern art in Paris between 1870 and 1930. I show how a growing population of galleries gradually coalesced into a status hierarchy systematically processing the economic careers of artists – what I refer to as a market chain. These galleries, I argue, were instrumental in shaping the value of modern art by upholding the belief that modern artists could be sorted into a reliable hierarchy of quality. This provided a sense of order and stability in an otherwise anomic field. I refer to this phenomenon as consecration, a previously under-theorized process of valuation and a powerful driver of inequality.
The market's gradual organization also resulted in a redefinition of the structure of opportunities available to artists, and ultimately in a reshaping of their creative identities. By making market resources more immediately available to young painters, it made it unnecessary for them to rely on the support provided by circles of fellow artists. As a consequence, it also isolated them earlier from the creative dynamics at work in such circles. Thus, while artists of the late nineteenth century advanced their art as members of close-knit peer groups, those of the 1910s and 1920s did so as individuals attached to the market intermediaries managing their careers. This shift from collective to individual creativity, I argue, was partially responsible for the relative decline of Paris as a center of radical innovation in the 1920s.