Why should we care about the rise of the arts management professional? Because the institutions that produce art—institutions made up of people who have a set of experiences and frameworks for thinking—are implicated in the kinds of art we produce. In New York, if large institutions with massive collections characterized the early 20th century, and small, collective, or artist-run spaces characterized the late 60s through the early 80s, and the biennial and art fair characterized the 90s and 00s. (Thanks to Rachel Cook for recent conversations about this progression.) There’s a chicken and egg problem here. You could think about this history of institutions as a product of the kinds of art being produced: American and European modernist painting and sculpture, Conceptualism and then movements related to American identity politics, and the global, dispersed contemporary, respectively. Or, you could think about it in terms of the kinds of people available to run the institutions: wealthy families and their intellectual attaches, underemployed boomers during the economically stagnant years of the 70s, and increasingly professionalized, business savvy managers. The truth is probably somewhere in between these two, or perhaps economic structures and conditions were productive of both.
What types of “management thinking” are affecting the art production the most right now? I propose two below, and leave it open to further discussion how these frameworks might be affecting the kinds of artwork and institutions being produced right now.
Brand Management: whether institutional or “personal,” brands are to be “managed.” We should distill our institutions and ourselves into a memorable bundle of attractive attributes for public consumption. Of course, discourses about self-presentation appear throughout history. But isn’t there something different, something very consumer-oriented, in the language of the brand? The brand is consistent, digestible, catchy, and cleaned-up. It’s not about pre-modern etiquette or modern essence. It’s something else.
Investment Analysis: the idea of making philanthropic investments with a social return takes its cue straight from wall street. The (more) measurable impacts on quality of life and the economics of a community fit into this framework better than the aesthetic, creative, or ethical impacts of art. Still, the drive to measure, compare, and select philanthropic opportunities based on impact rather than relationships, interests, and intuitive preferences reaches the art world.