Arts and Culture
The Chinese contemporary art market is one of the world’s largest. Hundreds of art galleries, auction houses, artists, critics, and collectors engage in a flourishing art commerce in mainland China. Yet, as recently as the early 1990s, there were no intermediary organisations or stable market practices and conventions, nor were there shared understandings about how the art trade should unfold. In other words, there was no market for contemporary art. This dissertation addresses the question: how has the contemporary art market been emerging in China? Market emergence is a central concern of economic sociology. This study contributes to the understanding of this process by looking at the previously little-studied field of the contemporary art market in China. It reveals that links with foreign markets, individuals, organisations and institutions are central for understanding the emergence of the Chinese contemporary art market. The first buyers of Chinese contemporary art were foreign, and the organisational models for galleries and auction houses stem from abroad. Art market actors in China engage in some practices considered illegitimate internationally, such as auctioning unestablished artists' work. Yet, participants of China's art market see their market as relatively young and consider it important to learn from the "mature" markets in Europe and the USA. This research suggests that market emergence can be understood as a result of transnational processes. Many markets emerge in complex institutional environments. This study shows that it is important to account how this embeddedness in both local and transnational contexts influences market emergence.