The art market is only a small part of the “art world.” Yet as the market succeeds more and art institutions see record attendance, government and non-profit support seems to be receding. That leaves the art world more dependent upon private money. Rachel Spence outlines in the Financial Times the growing ambivalence within the community of artists and curators toward having private sponsors who might have baggage, strings or strictures:
If the art world finds itself with more moral watchdogs snapping at its heels than ever before, it is partly as a result of its unprecedented growth. Every year, we see more biennials, new museums, the expansion of older museums and glossier shows, all of which must be funded. Simultaneously, more artists are making works with a political and social resonance. “Culture is much more politicised,” says Esche. “The changes in funding are going in hand in hand with changes in the kind of role that artists are demanding.” […]
“The corporate ethos has permeated deeply into museum culture,” says Professor Julian Stallabrass of the Courtauld Institute of Art, who has written extensively on the pact between commerce and culture. “The brand permeates everything, from the products in the shop to the designer uniform of the staff.”
[…] Stallabrass points out that the tension between content and context creates a paradox. “Much avant-garde and contemporary art is actively hostile towards capitalism. If an artist who is critiquing corporate power is presented as part of this branded apparatus, the work is being betrayed quite fundamentally.” Equally, when an institution or an event is being sustained through, say, exploitative labour practices, certain artists are going to question the ethics of their own participation there.
Curators are questioning whether dependence on private benefactors exacts too high a price. Emily Pethick, of the Showroom, a London-based, not-for-profit space that specialises in emerging and experimental artists, says: “Previously, when I was working in the Netherlands where we had a much higher subsidy, we could speculate and take more risks.” […]
Julia Friedrich, a curator at the Ludwig Museum in Cologne, says there is now far more pressure to find private sponsorship for shows than there was even 10 years ago. She believes that a loss of independence is inevitable when private money is involved. “Sponsors want exhibits that are popular. I am not saying that popular artists are bad artists but the choice is not as independent as it is when the money is there already. Most sponsors think very carefully about what they want to connect their names and logos to.”