Christie’s Education
Conference 2016
14 – 15 July 2016

The Good and Bad Collector: Function of Morality in the Contemporary Art Market

Focusing on collectors of contemporary art, my research investigates mechanisms that the art field has developed to protect the existing system of the distribution of art works, and to discourage treatment of the art market as any other market. Collectors operate simultaneously in the art market and in the sphere of culture, which are often considered as conflicting and incommensurable. The ideology of the art field requires that, while making decisions, the businessman in the collector struggles with the man of passion, which illustrates the dilemma of good and bad motives of collecting. What should gratify a collector is participating in cultural and artistic values, and not the financial profit. The notion of disinterest in money as the basis of involvement in art has been translated into two moral guidelines of collectors’ proper behavior: a good collector never sells and a good collector buys with his eyes and not with his ears.

My paper will discuss the way, in which collectors attempt to act according to these moral imperatives in order to secure the symbolic and cultural capital on the one hand, but also to be able to acquire economic capital on the other. Where the first moral code is mostly used to distinguish between good and bad collectors by galleries, the second code is used typically to make a distinction between collectors themselves. However, the pressure of these moral codes proved to have an effect only to a certain extent, as acquiring social standing and cultural values goes hand in hand with awareness of financial potential of art works.

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