Contemporary Art: A ‘Global’ and Local Perspective via New York’s Chelsea District

  • David Halle UCLA
  • Elisabeth Tiso UCLA


Chelsea’s art gallery district on Manhattan’s Far West Side is now probably the most important location worldwide for sales of new works of Contemporary Art, so understanding Chelsea is crucial for the goal of mapping key cultural enterprises worldwide. We first view Chelsea in the context of the international Contemporary Art market, looking especially at art fairs and auctions. We then discuss detailed material from Chelsea. Our central finding is the major (though not total) irreducibility between two central spheres, on the one hand the economic markets in which the art is traded, and on the other hand the content of the art and its meaning for the audience as they view it displayed in the galleries Although the market is crucial in all kinds of ways, the content of the art that is traded and its meaning for the audience cannot typically be reduced to economics, or usefully be analyzed primarily in economic terms. This is not to argue for the ‘autonomy of aesthetics’ but it is to argue that the aesthetic domain here is in many ways shaped by, and responds to, a different set of dynamics than the market domain. Both spheres are important for understanding the world of Contemporary Art and modern society and to study one but not the other gives a misleadingly one-sided view.


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