Contemporary Art and the Exhibitionary System: China as a Case Study
University of Cambridge
Department of Sociology
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
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Zhang, L. (2019). Contemporary Art and the Exhibitionary System: China as a Case Study (Doctoral thesis). https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.36678
The challenge of contemporary art, unlike in art history, has only recently been identified in sociology. Furthermore, an overly philosophical orientation, has undermined sociological expla- nations of artistic production. To remedy this, I propose a sociology of exhibitions. This entails a shift of focus from the elusive subject matter of art towards the tangible exhibition, and the construction of a new framework: the exhibitionary system, which also stands for the physical, institutional, and network environment of exhibitions. The central question in the sociology of exhibitions is to explain how the exhibitionary system shapes artistic production. The answer was sought by observing exhibition making in the Chinese exhibitionary system, from which quantitative data about 1,525 exhibitions, held in 43 exhibition spaces between 2010 and 2016, were also collected. I argue that the exhibition context shapes the physical basis of individual artworks and the construction of an artist’s oeuvre. Through the contextualised creation of artworks for public viewing, artists aim to raise their visibility, which is crucial for artists’ career prospects and symbolic consecration. An artist’s visibility is, however, constrained by where she exhibits and with whom she co-exhibits. My method for measuring visibility reveals its binary nature, divided along a singular dimension and a collective dimension. Yet no binary division between the non- profit and for-profit is found within the exhibitionary system with regards to the selection of artists. Rather, both sectors contribute to a dual selection of marketable artists. A model of professional autonomy, which reconciles “art and the market” on the level of practices and awareness, prevails in the exhibitionary system. The sociology of exhibitions has solved persistent theoretical problems in the sociology of art. My empirical findings give rise to new research questions. Finally, I have offered a dialogue between studies of non-western and western cases within the same framework.
sociology of art, contemporary art, exhibitions, sociology of exhibitions
This record's DOI: https://doi.org/10.17863/CAM.36678
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