Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art

Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art

by Olav Velthuis
Pub. Date:
Princeton University Press
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Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art

How do dealers price contemporary art in a world where objective criteria seem absent? Talking Prices is the first book to examine this question from a sociological perspective. On the basis of a wide range of qualitative and quantitative data, including interviews with art dealers in New York and Amsterdam, Olav Velthuis shows how contemporary art galleries juggle the contradictory logics of art and economics. In doing so, they rely on a highly ritualized business repertoire. For instance, a sharp distinction between a gallery's museumlike front space and its businesslike back space safeguards the separation of art from commerce.

Velthuis shows that prices, far from being abstract numbers, convey rich meanings to trading partners that extend well beyond the works of art. A high price may indicate not only the quality of a work but also the identity of collectors who bought it before the artist's reputation was established. Such meanings are far from unequivocal. For some, a high price may be a symbol of status; for others, it is a symbol of fraud.

Whereas sociological thought has long viewed prices as reducing qualities to quantities, this pathbreaking and engagingly written book reveals the rich world behind these numerical values. Art dealers distinguish different types of prices and attach moral significance to them. Thus the price mechanism constitutes a symbolic system akin to language.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691134031
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 07/30/2007
Series: Princeton Studies in Cultural Sociology Series
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 960,929
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.25(h) x 0.80(d)

Table of Contents

List of Tables and Graphs ix

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Chapter 1: The Architecture of the Art Market 21

Chapter 2: Exchanging Meaning 53

Chapter 3: Promoters versus Parasites 77

Chapter 4: Determinants of Prices 97

Chapter 5: The Art of Pricing 116

Chapter 6: Stories of Prices 132

Chapter 7: Symbolic Meanings of Prices 158

Chapter 8: Conclusion 179

Appendix A: Interview Questionnaire 191

Appendix B: Description of Interview Sample 194

Appendix C: Record Prices for Art 197

Appendix D: Multilevel Analysis of Prices for Art 199

Notes 209

Bibliography 237

Index 255

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