Critique as alibi: moral differentiation in the art market

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Abstract

Critique takes a key role in the political economy of contemporary art's marketization. It gives substance to a moral involvement in contemporary art that is operationally central to the distinction between its primary and secondary markets. In so doing, critique serves to maintain the grip of the primary market over contemporary art. Accounting for the distinction between markets in terms of a ‘spirit of capitalism’ shows furthermore how, even though the primary market disparages the encroachment of neo-liberal marketization in its field of activity, in its reliance on critique it nonetheless serves to legitimize the social re-organization of capital accumulation by neo-liberalism. Critique is then identified as an alibi for marketization qua neoliberal capital accumulation. On this basis, the heightened cultural and market interests in contemporary art at precisely the moment when neo-liberalism has been a dominant economic model have to be understood as something other than just an effect of inflated asset prices and cheap credit.

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