Intersections between the market and art criticism

In modern culture – that is, from the 19th century on, markedly influenced by the Industrial Revolution and the political changes of that century and the previous one – art became the object of study of art criticism, a discipline that emerged following its own methodologies, purposes specific. But it also saw itself concretely commodified, more so than at any other time in Western history up to that point. Criticism, on the one hand, established (or revealed, depending on our point of view) the aesthetic and historical value of a work; the market, on the other, its mercantile, financial value.

We know that art has always been the object of value judgments, but there was a turning point in those decades from the 18th century onwards, when the literature on art took the form of a 'critical discipline', at levels: philosophical, historiographical, informative, journalistic, etc. , at the same time that the art market began to take shape as we understand it today (albeit in a rather primitive way). Art criticism defined itself as a highly specialized field, with a special language, appropriate terminologies, and a unique selection of technical lexicon, gaining much importance as art became increasingly complex, increasingly varied and increasingly more and more unique. 

Simultaneously, this movement was accompanied by commercial developments – first, the emergence of the first art galleries dedicated to the exclusive sale of works produced by dead and living artists, in the early 1800s (to the detriment of previous establishments that also sold antique artifacts, furniture , jewelry, design objects, etc); later, galleries that not only dedicated themselves to the commercialization of art, but also represented its artists, living and active, with exclusive contracts, monthly stipends and even individual exhibitions; finally, arriving at the modern model that still inspires businesses today, with the emergence of different levels of commercialization: beginners and young artists, mid-career, established artists, secondary market, etc. The explosion in the number of galleries at the beginning of the 20th century was only a consolidation of this process, establishing the model for the sale of works of art for the future.

But art criticism has never ceased to influence these transformations. A classic example was the advent of abstract expressionism and the role played by the critic Clement Greenberg in its affirmation as a legitimate aesthetic movement – or more, as the only possible aesthetic response to the impasses of art history and production. The demand for art criticism that legitimizes the work and, therefore, its market value – or its strength in imposing certain aesthetic values – comes from certain 'shortcomings', flaws, in the apprehension of the visual production of a time. Criticism thus served as a mediator, as a bridge between the perplexity of the public and the artists, essential in clarifying what constituted a good work of art. If, on the one hand, criticism established this 'bridge' or mediation, on the other hand, its real language was often much more elaborate and inaccessible than the very works it was supposed to mediate. But this is a separate chapter. 

The task of criticism consisted, therefore, in demonstrating that what is done as art is truly art and that, being art, it is organically associated with other non-artistic/aesthetic activities, becoming involved in culture. However, criticism itself was instrumentalized to become a commercial valuation tool, creating a cause and effect relationship between artistic production, criticism and market price. For a long time, this model defined what was sold in commercial galleries, sustained on the one hand by the artists' desire to belong to the market, and on the other hand by the difficulty of the field of criticism to remain independent. 

It is known that this system did not last long until our days. There is today an inability of criticism to continue to assert itself as a judgment, including the proliferation of different styles and ways of commercializing art, countless means of circulating criticism and the discrepancies and disagreements between the two fields. With the changes in what is considered art – and with the elimination of the object – criticism has become a more academic endeavor, with less practical effects. The market, in different ways, learned to create other parallel devices for valuing and valuing the work of art, such as presence in institutional exhibitions and inclusion in collections and collections, to name a few.

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