Critique as alibi: moral differentiation in the art market

Malik, Suhail. 2008. Critique as alibi: moral differentiation in the art market. Journal of Visual Art Practice, Special Issue on Critique, 7(3), pp. 283-295. ISSN 14702029 [Article]

Text ( Critique as alibi)
critique_as_alibi_-_JVAP.pdf - Accepted Version

Download (247kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Critique takes a key role in the political economy of contemporary art’s marketization. It gives substance to a moral involvement in contemporary art that is operationally central to the distinction between its primary and secondary markets. In so doing, critique serves to maintain the grip of the primary market over contemporary art. Accounting for the distinction between markets in terms of a ‘spirit of capitalism’ shows furthermore how, even though the primary market disparages the encroachment of neo-liberal marketization in its field of activity, in its reliance on critique it nonetheless serves to legitimize the social re-organization
of capital accumulation by neo-liberalism. Critique is then identified as an alibi for marketization qua neoliberal capital accumulation. On this basis, the heightened cultural and market interests in contemporary art at precisely the moment when neo-liberalism has been a dominant economic model have to be understood as something other than just an effect of inflated asset prices and cheap credit.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):

Additional Information:


The article contributes to the emerging field of cultural economics/the political economy of art. Taking up received sociological discussions of art market structures and ideology-analysis of their (self-)legitimizing discourses (Velthuis, Bourdieu, Boltanski & Chiapello, A. Fraser), the critical claims of contemporary art are shown to back-handedly support the neo-liberal re-organization of capitalism, against which they are often ostensibly opposed, by moralizing market mechanisms both through content as well as mercantile-social organization. The heightened interest in contemporary art accompanying the broader shift to neo-liberal economic organization is therefore explained in terms of cultural-moral norms rather than the more usual logics of investment strategies, a logic successfully tested by the impact of economic crisis of 2008 on the contemporary art market and its re-organization.


The article was preceded by related presentations at/publications in: Showroom conference (London, 2006); Metropolis Rise (Shanghai, 2006); Witte de With (with A. Phillips, 2007); Venice Biennale (with Pilot, 2007), Mute (2008); Lapdogs of the Bourgeoisie (Tensta Konsthall, Stockholm, 2008; Arnolfini, Bristol, 2009).
It has contributed to the subsequent presentations at/in the Museum of Contemporary Art at Vojvodina (2010); Art Dubai 2011 (republished in Art Tomorrow (Tehran, 2011)); de Appel (Rijksakademie Amsterdam, 2011; with J Flay, R Flood, Phillips, Velthuis); an 8700 word article (co-authored with Phillips) in Art and Its Commercial Markets, ed. Lind and Velthuis, 2012; with: Baia-Curioni, van den Berg/Pasero, Graw, Goldin+Senneby, Horowitz, Quemin and Velthuis); and presentations at Bard College, NY (2012) and Frankfurt Städeschule (2012).


artistic critique, contemporary art, neo-liberalism, primary market, spirit of capitalism

Departments, Centres and Research Units:




Item ID:


Date Deposited:

12 Jun 2012 15:11

Last Modified:

29 Apr 2020 15:34

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)