Lessons from Chelsea: A Study in Contemporary Commodification and Art

Dr. David Halle,
Elisabeth Tiso
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Chelsea in Manhattan has become the center of Contemporary Art in the United States. Between 1997 and 2003, the number of galleries there grew from 40 to over 203. Chelsea therefore, offers a window onto Contemporary Art, just as SoHo did. Our four year study of Chelsea analyzes the galleries, gallery owners, art, artists and audience.

Chelsea is the latest stage in a dialect in art between commercialism/market dominance and counter forces. The current balance is complex and pluralistic and is not well captured by perspectives that just stress commercialism (e.g. the market "contaminates" art) or that just celebrate the freedom the market confers.

The market/commercialism are apparent in several ways. Chelsea was developed primarily by commercial galleries, unlike SoHo which was initially colonized by artists. Also, active in Chelsea are some global behemoths such as Gagosian. Finally, the subject of almost half the art is mass produced objects, commodities (e.g. Xmas decorations, suburban tract houses).

On the other hand, the artists believe that the commercial gallery system offers a range of market venues for displaying their work that contrasts with the more restricted opportunities of the museum world. Also, many people sea Chelsea as offering the "best free show in town", in contrast to MoMa who has raised its entrance fee to $20, blurring the public-private distinction. Finally, among the audience are a wide range of views on art. For example, the audience divides on mass-produced objects (mass culture) as a topic of art. Some are enthusiastic, while others believe this subject is hackneyed.

Keywords: Art, Globalization, Commodification
Stream: Globalisation
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
Paper: Lessons from Chelsea

Dr. David Halle

Professor of Sociology at U.C.L.A., Director of the UCLA LeRoy Neiman Center for the Study of American Society and Culture., University of California at Los Angeles.

Author of "Inside Culture (University of Chicago Press, 1994) and is Professor of Sociology and Director of the UCLA LeRoy Neiman Center for the Study of American Society and Culture. Resumes to follow.

Elisabeth Tiso

Professor at New School for Social Research, New School for Social Research.

Born in Los Angeles. Works and lives in New York City. Collaborated On "Inside Culture". Helped found and run the Niki de Saint Phalle Foundation. Currently teaching Art History at the New School for Social Research in New York City.

Ref: H05P0227