The Invisible Hand of the Market Joaquín Barriendos Rodríguez

Twenty years have passed since Hans Haacke’s exhibit titled Unfinished Business in the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. Included in its catalog, published in 1986, is an article by Haacke himself, “Museums: Managers of Consciousness,” in which the artist retrieves the concept of “industry” proposed by Hans Magnus Enzensberger and defines the antiromantic spirit of the new leaders of the art market.

Under the concept of the industrialization of art, Haacke grouped a great variety of phenomena: the standardization of the model of two directors on the boards of museums, consisting of an artistic director (or curator) and an administrative (or executive) director; the inclusion of managers on the boards of art institutions; the creation of a few international lobbies to control auctions and the setting of prices; the establishment of specialized agencies for buying and selling, transport, insurance, and distribution of artwork; the proliferation of local fairs and biennials, the promotion of certain cities as cultural and economic centers, etc. These phenomena have all had an impact, in one way or another, on the emergence of the new geopolitics of creativity which the new economy is now based on.

With this article, Hans Haacke sought to bring to light the antiromantic attitude of the new leaders in the art market, who had quickly positioned themselves in various scenes of the cultural sector with the intention of managing artistic products as mere commodities. “A new breed,” says Hans Haacke, “has recently appeared on the industrial landscape: art managers. Trained by prestigious business schools, they are convinced that art can and should be managed like the production and marketing of other goods. They make no apologies and have few romantic hang-ups.”

In 20 years, however, the presence of anti-romantic marketing literature has changed significantly. Far from having limited itself to the implementation of customer orientation, which, as Hans Haacke pointed out, appeared to have emerged precisely from the desublimation of art and of its subsequent revalorization through market rules, economic gains, and the global product market, this literature has proved capable of incorporating the speculative value of neo-romantic interpretations of art as a mere variable of the entrepreneurial creativity of the art market. Hence, the capitalization of subjective elements that argues the peculiar character of art has turned the absence of effective regulations into a powerful source of economic gain generated by the auratic and unquantifiable character of art.

In this way, the dehumanization of art that allegedly goes hand in hand with the process of its commodification was immersed in a sort of neo-romantic hyper-subjectivization of the art sector. Both the exorbitant prices paid for some of the pieces in recent years and the huge cost of production of some of the art clearly reflect the complex system of capitalization of the immaterial spirit of art. Therefore, some of the most important changes that took place due to industrialization did not destroy the auratic character of art. It was, rather, the theories of the market itself, the strategies of management of intangible goods, and the economic speculation involving creativity that underwent profound transformations. Lobbying agencies, the illegal market, political perks, private/public collecting, state heritage business, etc. have all shown the ability to adapt to the neo-romantic reality of the art market.

In an attempt to decipher the new strategies of symbolic capital management, Hye-Kyung Lee published, in 2005, an article titled “When Arts Met Marketing: Arts Marketing Theory Embedded in Romanticism,” in which this theorist of the art industry and teacher at King’s College in London analyzes the processes of mercantilization of art that are based on the reinforcement of the romantic mentality. In her dissertation, Lee reviews the narratives of market theory from the point of view of nonprofit institutions and state funding. She also analyzes the transformations of inversion strategies in culture, the changes in contemporary artistic practice and the different attitudes of artists faced with the current art market. She reaches the conclusion that the neo-romantization of management seems to void the possibility of the market becoming a sort of critical regulator in relation to the lucrative orientation of the art market itself. Similar to our request for the possibility of a certain type of creative critique that would not be absorbed by a creative economy, Lee asks in the conclusion of her article: “Can non-market oriented marketing be marketing?”

There is currently a lot of hype surrounding the virtues that supposedly come with the development of creative industries. In this sense, the globalization of the noble creativity forces us to keep a watchful eye on the function, the benefits and the consequences of making the talent industry and personal abilities the motor of economic growth. The process of socialization of creativity that we have been witnessing in recent years therefore forces us to examine the validity of discourses and philosophies upon which arguments are formulated in favor of mental creativity as an asset for cultural expediency.

As many theorists have pointed out (Marion Von Osten, Isabell Lorey, Maurizio Lazzarato, Stefan Nowotny, Angela McRobbie, etc.) the necessity to be permanently free, innovative, and creative generates an interdependence between the flexibilization of cultural work and the precarization of subjects through the job market, since both promote the idea that the choice of one’s own lifestyle has been made in a free and creative way. The imperative of being constantly free (in accordance with the emotional spirit of self-realization) is then one of the most effective biopolitical forms of production, reproduction, and consumption, since it warrants liberty based on a constant demand for a self-capitalization of the workforce: act in a creative way every minute of every hour. In Foucault’s terminology, we could say that the governability of creativity consists in the fact that it merges human capital and the potential capacity to produce. As a cultural asset, creativity is, therefore, inseparable from the body and from life; in other words, it is embodied labor. In this sense, the imperative of becoming our own managers seems to lead to a situation where public as well as private life has dissolved under the influence of the entrepreneurial mentality. However, the imperative of being creative also raises the question posed above: Is it possible to trust the transformative function of artistic creativity after realizing that artistic criticism can be devoured by the marketing creativity of cultural economy?