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Art and Markets--Skeel

Through a quirk of scheduling, I was in Amsterdam a week ago for a corporate law conference and (after a brief return home) am now in Milan and Rome for nine days with the twelve students in my Globalization of Corporate Governance seminar.   The combination of corporate law conferences and side trips to several of the world’s great art museums has gotten me thinking—however ill-informedly—about the relationship between markets and art.

In my seedtime, we always assumed that great artists invariably resisted the commercial tendencies of their time.  But after a couple of hours with Rembrandt’s paintings of wealthy burghers (like this one, The Sampling Officials (1662)) from 17th Century Holland in Amsterdam’s Rijksmuseum, or the Medici commissioned paintings in the Brera here in Milan, it seems clear that art-as-resistance is not a universal tendency. In 17th century Holland and Renaissance Italy, markets and art blossomed in tandem.
It may be that artistic trends alternate between fellowship with and resistance to markets. But I’m more inclined to suspect that markets and art invariably move in roughly parallel directions. The fragmentation of the art world in the past several decades may, for example, echo the destabilizing effects of globalization and rapid innovation in the financial markets.  Perhaps this means that we will see a period of neotraditionalism both in art and in corporate and financial life once the current crisis passes.


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