Short summary of contemporary art

The two words "contemporary art" alone incite interest, curiosity, surprise and sometimes incomprehension. These references shed some light on the phenomenon and provide a virtual viewpoint.
© Alexandre Joly

What is contemporary art? How do the contemporary art world and market function? What are the rules, mechanisms, logic? For want of a better answer, these references shed some light on the phenomenon and provide a virtual viewpoint.  


The economist's book

The $12 Million Stuffed Shark: The Curious Economics of Contemporary Art - Don Thompson

Professor of economics and brand strategy in Toronto and a collector himself, Don Thompson plunges into the art market to answer the one question that interests him: who determines the price of an artwork? The shark in the title is obviously Damien Hirst's – naturalised, preserved in formaldehyde and exhibited at the Met in New York. It provides an introductory 'business case' to Thompson's study. Ultimately, he paints a picture of an intriguing system, the art world, which never ceases to fascinate because it seems to defy all economic, social and cultural logic.

This book is well written and full of information and anecdotes, like that of the American collector Eli Broad, whose new museum has just opened in Los Angeles.

The journalist's book

Seven Days in the Art World - Sarah Thornton

"The contemporary art world is a loose network of overlapping subcultures held together by a belief in art." (...) "Art is about experimenting and ideas, but it is also about excellence and exclusion." " (…) "Contemporary art has become a kind of alternative religion for atheists." These quotes illustrate the points raised by Sarah Thornton, an art historian, sociologist and journalist who undertook an in-depth study of the art world.

She organised her fieldwork into seven days, each devoted to one aspect of the observed environment. From a Christie's auction to a studio visit in Japan (Murakami), from art school to the editorial department of a leading magazine to the elite who strut in front of security guards at the Art Basel fair, Sarah Thornton describes her experiences in lively and acerbic style. Most of art's major players are featured in her book. An excellent, educational 'vade mecum' for getting to know the world of contemporary art.

The artist's book

The Contemporaries - Roger White

Artist Roger White chose to make a sideways move, step out of his studio and write a book about the life of an artist today and the 21st-century art world. He explains that he is not interested in the "professionalized and financialized" facade of the art world but in the "profound tensions" undergirding it. In the manner of Harvard Business Review case studies, Roger White deciphers the practices and codes of what could be now called, in Hollywood style, the art industry.

"The Contemporaries: Travels in the 21st-Century Art World" gives a new perspective on the conditions in which contemporary art is made. Roger White does not base this around his own paintings but analyses the role of art schools and sets out to describe the life of three contemporary artists: Dana Schutz, who exhibited in a joint show at the Kunsthaus Zürich during 2012, Mary Walling Blackburn and Stephen Kaltenbach. The first illustrates the phenomenon of a 'successful' artist, while Kaltenbach is the intriguing but rare figure of an artist who disappears from the scene then makes a comeback.

The sociologist's book

Le marché de l'art : Mondialisation et nouvelles technologies - Raymonde Moulin

She jokes that Michelangelo's David was the first man in her life. And she says that it was Raymond Aron who made her look into the sociology of art. Discreet, modest, with a first thesis published in 1967 on the French art market (Le marché de la peinture en France), Raymonde Moulin in fact invented the field and a central hypothesis that the value of art is based on the intersection of markets and institutions. Today her work is continued by her disciples, such as Pierre-Michel Menger in his Portrait de l'artiste en travailleur or Alain Quemin who, in Stars de l'art contemporain, questions the classification system, the 'rankings' that in his opinion say more about how to build a reputation than about the quality of the art. 

The collector's book

A Passion for Art - Ernst Beyeler

How can the contribution of Ernst Beyeler to the profound transformation of the art world be summed up? In 1945, he was 24 when he took over a small bookseller in Basel and added a gallery. His exhibition catalogues were always of very high quality. Picasso admired them. Beyeler met him for the first time in 1966. He left the studio having forged a deep and lasting friendship with the artist and with 26 of his works, one of which, 'The Rescue' from 1932, is still in Basel. In 1971, he founded Art Basel. In 1982, he set up the Beyeler Foundation. The key dates in Ernst Beyeler's life were often events.

In a book full of anecdotes and memories, Ernst Beyeler tells his story and shares his passion for art – and we see just how unique he was. 

Some leading sites

  • A pioneer of information sites for art news, set up in Spain nearly twenty years ago.
  • All news and exhibitions, internationally. Used extensively by galleries to promote their shows.
  • "Sensitive to Art and its Discontents". A site that promotes and maintains a critical spirit.
  • Online magazine that covers all contemporary art news.
  • Welcome to this great art information supermarket.
  • Started in Germany at the end of the 1980s, went global by moving to New York soon afterwards. A stalwart despite some turbulent times recently, this site remains a 'must' for its two flagship products, the 'price database' and its 'market alerts', and the breadth of its information on the art scene.
  • Subscribe to receive the information that matters: the price of artworks. A monumental database with 570,000 artists and 4,500 listed dealers. A must for professionals and enlightened amateurs.
  • A leading site for online art business. It could become the absolute reference point, the 'Uber' of online sales.


The leading periodicals

  • Art News Since 1902. The oldest, most widely distributed and most prestigious periodical, judging by the historic and current bylines.
  • Art Forum The art review that sets the tone and has retained a theoretical and analytical approach since its creation in the 1960s. 
  • Art Press Founded in 1972 by Catherine Millet. The writers include the founder's friends, Philippe Sollers and Julia Kristeva. Its logo was designed by Roger Tallon, who also designed the TGV.
  • The Art Newspaper Melanie Gerlis, who edits the art market section, is an international specialist in the economics of art. Published in French as the Journal des Arts.
  • Art The German magazine that documents the growth of the German art scene.
  • Du The Zurich-based review. Vital in Switzerland.
  • Parkett A redoubtable 'unidentified artistic object' that now has mythical status. In 1984, Bice Curiger from Zurich and Jacqueline Burckhardt from Basel had a brilliant idea: to commission an original work for their new magazine, which aimed to be a platform for artistic exchange, hence its name. Today, the review and 'its' artists ‑ the contemporary art elite ­‑ exhibit throughout the world. Curiger and Burckhardt went on to have distinguished careers. But with Dieter Von Graffenried, who has been their editor since the start, they still keep a watchful eye on Parkett.
  • Kunstbulletin The name says it all. Created in May 1968 by members of the Swiss Société des Beaux-Arts, this little pamphlet that slips perfectly into any pocket lists art exhibitions, events and news every month. Its website also has some very useful links. 

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Art Contemporary

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