The Rise (and Rise) of the Digital Art Market – Association for Art History Annual Conference 2022

A fascinating session on the Digital Art Market at the Association for Art History Annual Conference 6th-8th April 2022 at Goldsmiths, University of London.

The Rise (and Rise) of the Digital Art Market

Martin Postle, Paul Mellon Centre, mpostle@paul-mellon-centre.ac.uk

In recent years the global art trade has experienced a radical transformation, driven to a large extent by digital technology. Across the board, art works are bought and sold online in increasing numbers by a greatly expanded network of individuals and institutions, from international auction houses and art dealers to private individuals operating remotely on shoestring budgets. A leading player in this mass proliferation of internet sales is the UK art market. But this too has changed. Previously, the sale of art in Britain was dominated by seasonal auctions at Christie’s and Sotheby’s, and the selling ‘exhibitions’ mounted by major dealers such as Agnews and Colnaghi, marketed and packaged though the sale of lavishly illustrated catalogues. Now the sales catalogue has been superseded by online publications, available gratis at the click of a button. Literally hundreds of thousands of images can be accessed by anyone, in what might be regarded as a welcome democratisation of the art market. More troubling, with the effective ‘death’ of the printed catalogue, is the all too swift disappearance of images of works of art, as these ephemeral records leave little or no trace, making the establishing and maintenance of pictorial records and provenance increasingly challenging.

This session has been devised to reflect upon this transformation of the British art market. How might it best be understood and explained, and what impact might it have on art-historical scholarship, both now and in the future? How might it change the ways in which art can be tracked, traced, and evaluated? How does this transformed British art market relate to other global centres of the art trade? Indeed, is there now such a thing as a distinctly ‘British’ art market at all?

Underpinned by such concerns, this session encourages proposals for 20-minute papers that pursue relevant approaches and topics including:

  • The role of scholarship in mediating and analysing the digital art market
  • The impact of commercial digital photography upon the art object
  • The ethics of online art dealing
  • Connoisseurship and the role of the digital image

The impact of emerging technologies and search engines on the art market

  • Archiving the digital art market image
  • Provenance in the age of the digital art market
  • The British art market in a global context

Please submit your paper proposal to the convenor.