Symbolic meanings of prices: Constructing the value of contemporary art in Amsterdam and New York galleries
- Cite this article as:
- Velthuis, O. Theory and Society (2003) 32: 181. doi:10.1023/A:1023995520369
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This article develops a sociological analysis of the price mechanism on the market for contemporary art. On the basis of in-depth interviews with art dealers in New York and Amsterdam, I address two pricing norms: one norm inhibits art dealers from decreasing prices; the other induces them to set prices according to size. To account for these pricing norms, I argue that price setting is not just an economic but also a signifying act: despite their impersonal, businesslike connotations, actors on markets manage to express a range of cognitive and cultural meanings through prices. Previously, meanings of prices have been recognized in signaling theories within economics. However, these meanings are restricted to profit opportunities. Within the humanities, by contrast, meanings of prices are restricted to contaminating or corrosive meanings. The sociological perspective I develop claims that prices, price differences, and price changes convey multiple meanings related to the reputation of artists, the social status of dealers, and the quality of the artworks that are traded.