African and Oceanic art in the value system of auction houses
(École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, University of Vienna)
Paper short abstract:
This paper investigates the marketing of ancient African and Oceanic art of Sotheby's and Christie's. By taking a look at the internal functioning of these auction firms and their sales strategies, this contribution analyses configurations and strategies of value creation in the auction market.
Paper long abstract:
Recent anthropological research on the marketing of African and Oceanic art in auction houses has conceptualized the auction as a series of processes rather than a singular event. However, in their aim to understand how values and prices are constructed in the auction market, ethnographical investigations have mainly concentrated on the public part of the auction process, namely the catalogue, the carefully curated pre-auction exhibition and the sale. This paper calls for broadening the scope of analysis by investigating business strategies, institutional aspects of auctions and the power of auction house brands. On the basis of an ethnographic study, I shall deal in the first part with the activities and specific types of knowledge of market agents involved in the process of sourcing, evaluating and marketing objects (business getting, valuation, cataloguing, client strategy, monitoring of competitors, etc.). In the second part, I will focus on a particular strategy in the marketing of African and Oceanic art which capitalizes on their historical link to Modernism: Sotheby's and Christie's are strategically timing their Art of Africa and Oceania auctions and viewings to coincide with those of modern and contemporary art and with international art fairs to entice a younger generation of wealthy collectors. The paper will consider the implications of this marketing strategy concerning the canonization process of African and Oceanic art.
Aesthetic encounters: the politics of moving and (un)settling visual arts, design and literature