Ben Lewis’ The Great Contemporary Art Bubble

Tonight ABC2 screened Ben Lewis‘ documentary The Great Contemporary Art Bubble.

It’s a compelling contemporary history of the bubble in contemporary art between 2003-2008 and the dumb money and savvy art world insiders who enabled it to happen.

This is both a vital piece of contemporary art journalism and a fine exploration of the darker side of the art world itself. Lewis argues that key dealers and galleries colluded to routinely bid up prices for hot contemporary artists such as Damien Hirst. Featuring important on-the-record interviews with leading dealers, collectors and critics, including Jim Chanos (though, unsurprisingly, not those at the centre of the art world rumours – Sotheby’s, Jay Jopling, Larry Gagosian and Hirst himself).


Sociology of art readings

I’ve started doing some long-overdue reading in the sociology of art. Here are four works from my research which call for renewed attention.

Art Worlds by Howard Becker – a classic. Berkley and Los Angeles, University of California Press, 1982.  Becker writes:

All artistic work, like all human activity, involves the joint activity of a number, often a large number of people. Through their cooperation, the art work we eventually see or hear comes to be and continues to be. The forms of cooperation may be ephemeral, but often becomes more or less routine, producing patterns of collective activity we can call an art world. (Page 1). 

Seven Days in the Art World – by Sarah Thornton. New York, W.W. Norton, 2008

Thornton’s book Club Cultures has been a huge influence on the thinking of many researchers in the field (Danah Boyd for instance – see her discussion of the book here). It also famously coined coined the phrase “subcultural capital.” Seven Days in the Art World is the result of five years work including more than 250 interviews. Chapters include a trip to an auction at Christie’s New York, an art-school seminar at the California Institute of the Arts; the Basle art  fair, the Turner prize, Artforum magazine, the Venice Biennale and a studio visit with Takashi Murakami. 

The Sociology of Art: Ways of Seeing. Edited by David Inglis and John Hughson. Basingstoke, Palgrave, 2005.

David Inglis is a distinguished cultural sociologist who has written extensively on this topic. This is a good reader/textbook.

Living and Learning Living and Learning with New Media: Summary of Findings from the Digital Youth Project. A White Paper by Mizuko Ito and colleagues (including Danah Boyd). Chicago, The Macarthur Foundation, 2009.

This white paper summarizes the results of a three-year ethnographic study, funded by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, examining young people’s participation in the new media ecology. It represents a condensed version of a longer treatment of the project findings.i The study was motivated by two primary research questions: How are new media being integrated into youth practices and agendas? How do these practices change the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge? (page 1).