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New Markets and Territories for Art in the Cities of the Global South

Sophie Brones et Amin Moghadam

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1Five years ago, the journal Transcontinentales devoted an issue to “Emerging Art Markets” (Choron-Baix, Mermier 2012). It contained articles about countries such as India, China, Turkey, the UAE and Brazil, their markets, and how the status of the artist was being redefined there. Building on the work of Ulf Hannerz and Sharon Zukin on the globalisation of the “symbolic economy” of culture, the articles attempted to show how the world’s cultural centralities were in a process of reconfiguration. While they evoked the increasingly transnational dimension of urban centres, they dealt with it only indirectly (Choron-Baix, Mermier 2012). This edition of Geography et Cultures is precisely addressing this issue. It looks at the relationship between regional or global trade and urban reconfigurations through the questions of urban development and property investments and the way cities promote their image and their claims to be cultural hubs, often while simultaneously participating in the process of nation-building. We will also look into the effects a developing art market has on cities and their practices, usages and representations. Our analysis is also based on the results of a recent collective research programme about the social, economic and cultural aspects of regional integration as observed especially in the Middle East, thus looking beyond the purely economic point of view adopted by most international institutions (Vignal 2017).

2Cosmopolitan and characteristically concentrating a variety of economic and cultural activities and resources, cities are promising places to study the effects of globalisation. They are hubs for innovation and the circulation and dissemination of cultural trends. They capture transnational currents and incorporate them into their own development, giving rise to configurations which, while distinctly individual, are nevertheless in many ways comparable (Puig, Mermier, 2007). Cities are caught up in the interplay between what Hannerz, quoting Redfield and Singer, call “heterogenetic” cultural processes, i.e. the way urban life forges constant cultural innovations out of multiple traditions (Hannerz, 2010), and the idea that globalisation produces a kind of homogenisation of spaces through the transmission of forms of communication, models of consumption (including those of consuming the city itself), and new types of social and spatial segregation.

3Globalization also raises issues of access to, and the sharing of resources, making people’s re-negotiation of roles and degrees of empowerment in the city increasingly problematic (Drieskens, Mermier, 2007). These issues are often based on claims to belonging (Boullata 2008), autochthony or the affirmation of “rights to the city” on the basis, as David Harvey puts it, of “narrower plans and exclusionary aesthetics and discursive practices to become dominant (Harvey 2001, p. 408).” These expressions often take place in a fragmented urbanity by forms of segregation reinforced by growing cosmopolitanism or the desire for anonymity, but also by citizens’ ability to relate to and navigate between different spheres, each with its own codes and standards. Circulation within and between cities traces multiple networks of lifestyles, usages and practices at odds with the dominant norm, and supports diverse relationships with urban timeframes and rhythms (Drieskens, Mermier, 2007, p. 13).

4With the seeming “deterritorialisation” of cultural networks and flows, it is particularly relevant to take a close look at the persistence of locality and the various forms it takes (Appadurai, 2001; Raulin, 2009; Abélès, 2008). This is why field surveys were used, in countries of the “Global South”, to investigate territorial issues by looking into phenomena that today affect various cultural areas indifferently – underlining the importance of redefining what “Global South” means in view of the situations that have arisen out of various historical and socio-economic contexts. For example, distinctions can be made regarding both the level of state intervention and authoritarianism, and the degree to which the arts are institutionalised, even if these relate back to a geography of identification and opportunities that have their roots in decolonized contexts. While a post-colonial approach would question the use of concepts developed to help explain the urban phenomena of the north (López-Morales, 2015), in the countries of the Global South we cannot fail to note that similar urban objects have emerged, both in their form and in the meanings attributed to them locally.

5The various contributions to the present issue are intended to help us rethink the pertinence of such categorizations: while the Global South appears as a space-time where we may examine processes already studied in other parts of the world, it also contributes to the structuring of new geographies or even topographies as yet largely to be described. By looking at these processes as part of a continuum of exchange between diverse contexts (south-north and north-south), we hope to contribute to the construction of a global urban view, identifying change in continuity.

6We will therefore examine the role played by the emerging markets of and within cities, and into relations between central and outlying locations on various levels. Investigation of their territorial roots enables us to observe groups of stakeholders actively involved in cultural and artistic practices that are linked to the art market, as well as interdependent systems of governance. An understanding of the (frequently urban) geography of art locations therefore implies articulating different scales within a set of globalisation, regionalisation, urbanisation and state-building processes; what the historian Cyrus Schayegh defines as “trans-spatialisation” (Schayegh, 2017). Cities are seen as representing a “third force” – a space connecting individuals and nation-states (Lynn Hollen and Lees, 2007; Schayegh, 2017).

7The relation between the formation of the state “as a historic, conflict-filled, involuntary, and largely unconscious process,” (as opposed to deliberate construction of the state, c.f. Berman, Lonsdale, 1992, quoted in Bayart, 1996, p. 4) and the development of the art scene are analysed notably in the contributions of Marilena Vecco and Anahi Alviso. Both public authorities and the transnational elites involved in projects aimed at developing local art scenes and markets often adopt nationalist, developmentalist rhetoric. Efforts undertaken to internationalise the local scene thus pursue the process of nation-building as well as that of a capitalistic expansion of the market. If this “national-liberalism,” as Jean-François Bayart terms it (2012), views culture as an ideal locus of expression supporting urban development, it also informs the connection between nation-states and transnational and trans-local networks via artistic practices and productions (Schayegh, 2017). This explains why, in this context, contributors to cultural and artistic milieus sometimes first gain legitimacy beyond their national borders before they manage to make their mark locally. It is in this sense that analysing transnational and globalised artistic and cultural practices also offers insights into the state as both an actor and a consequence of transnational practices (Bayart, 2004; Portes and Kelly, 2015; Vignal, 2017).

8Within this general neoliberal system (especially as studied in this issue), the state encourages the development of transnational practices in the artistic field by outsourcing them to the private or semi-private sector (Harris, 2013). In this respect, urban entrepreneurialism (Harvey, 2001), which sees culture as a key development tool, also reconfigures the role of public and private stakeholders in defining cultural policy and managing the relevant urban spaces, ultimately legitimating their contribution to the regional planning. The legitimacy of the private sector is often built upon access to various spheres of influence at regional and international levels and the absence of the constraints public stakeholders are often faced with. In addition, the outsourcing of the cultural sector coincides with the ambitions and anxieties of individuals hoping to make new symbolic and financial capital out of a strategic rapprochement with the arts community or art-collecting. The growth of these new urban elites corresponds to the emergence of new spheres of influence in which art is a useful instrument (c.f. the contributions of Sophie Brones, Amin Moghadam and Gilles Martinet).

9The deregulation of the cultural field also favours the development of an informal economy, a familiar feature of culture markets. From this point of view, artistic production is one of the primary areas to offer insights into the relationship between the public and private sectors or the formal and informal economy. A number of articles in this issue investigate these relations, for example by looking at Indian workers employed in the making of monumental art works (Christine Ithurbide), or at the evolution of what are officially non-profit art spaces into potential lobbying forces (Sophie Brones and Amin Moghadam).

10The development of urban spaces dedicated to artistic practices also helps position cities within national territories and transnational relations (see in particular the contribution of Marilena Vecco). As soon as we take an interest in the “urban armature of cultural production” (Mermier, Puig, 2007), it becomes obvious that cities are involved in a common process of promoting their image and developing their visibility and the symbolic capital attached to their name (Harvey 2008). David Harvey sees their integration within the capitalist economy as being based on each city exploiting its own “monopoly rents,” which enable it to highlight what distinguishes it from others and turn it to a profit. He postulates that if “a monopoly rent is always the object of capitalist desire, the means of gaining it through interventions in the field of culture, history, heritage, aesthetics and meanings must necessarily be of a great import for capitalists of any sort (Harvey 2001, p. 409).”

11The phenomenon of investment in the cultural field, whether through the development of “arts districts” or the gentrification of both historic city centres and urban outskirts, has been studied abundantly in northern cities, whether by geographers (Florida, 2002; Clerval, 2013; Grésillon, 2014), sociologists and anthropologists (Zukin, 1987; Bourdin, 2008) or urban development specialists (Lextrait, Kahn, 2005; Charmes, 2005; Charmes and Vivant, 2008; Vivant, 2009; Pacquot, 2010). Gilles Martinet describes how, in Montevideo in Uruguay, private promoters and investors have made cultural and artistic activities “a lever of urban transformation, with strategies that sometimes coincide with public policy.”

12Observation of the “interference” between public and private “raises the question of the impacts of urban transformation on processes known as “gentrification” and the creation of pockets of cultural activities on the global urban dynamics of the cities.” Is the “centre-periphery” model still relevant in the context of the global city where places are interconnected beyond national borders, where the regional and international circulations of culture within art markets reinforces the structuring of national cultural fields, where networks of artists and other stakeholders participating in the “art worlds” are formed cutting across different social strata and neighbourhoods and via virtual modes of communication? By putting Beirut and Dubai into perspective for example, we look into translocal modes of production of space related to art markets’ dynamics. This study reveals that the development of individual art districts has relatively little impact on urban development overall, whereas the link is much closer in Montevideo, almost certainly on account of the stronger impact of public policy there, as opposed to Beirut and Dubai.

13By investigating art markets, we are also trying to understand how circulations take place at regional and global levels and monitor the continuity of influences and models in line with people’s mobility. While it would be inadequate only to emphasise the influence of dominant models in socio-spatial transformations occurring in post-colonial urban contexts, limiting studies to the analysis of new processes of local appropriation would only show us the other side of the same coin, leading to unjustified exceptionalism. Instead of thinking in terms of opposites, the situations described in several articles in this issue demonstrate the recurrence of phenomena that invent or imagine new rules for the same game, depending on situations defined by local, national and global contexts. This is the case in particular with the Art Walks now present in many countries of both the north and the south. In a survey carried out in Istanbul, Jéremy Molho shows how they lead to local arrangements influenced by the specific topography, the local cultural offering and its territorialisation and the needs of artists and gallery-owners with links to the regional and world markets. In the case of the Chinese market, the world’s second largest for art and antiques after the US (Baia Curioni, Velthuis, 2015), and which, like the Indian, Mexican, Middle Eastern or Brazilian markets, albeit to varying degrees, has undergone spectacular growth over the last decade (Choron-Baix, Mermier, 2012), Franz Schultheis and Thomas Mazzurana show how Hong Kong stands apart from the situation in mainland China. In spite of the lightning establishment of the metropolis on the world market, according to the authors, the lack of publicly-backed educational institutions or structures supporting the diffusion of artistic practices and production holds back the constitution of cultural capital capable of consolidating and perpetuating its market position in the long term.

14Finally, while the growing number of nodes in the global network of art markets is evidence of the emergence of new regional hubs, the dominant models of a handful of major world metropolises such as New York, Paris and London continue to play an active structuring role. Moreover, contemporary art markets are marked by complexities, interconnections, stratifications and differentiations so far only partially identified and understood (Baia Curioni, Velthuis, 2015). One possible “way in” to apprehending these phenomena would be to consider artists’ trajectories. With respect to the globalisation of artistic practices and the role played by cities of the Global South, the question of artists’ visibility and extraversion becomes paramount. Writing about the artist Anish Kapoor, Denis Vidal suggests that “the consequence of globalisation has so far been not so much to give rise to new figures of universal artists as to universalise the figure of the artist (Vidal, 2009, p. 79).” It does indeed seem that, as markets structure, we are witnessing increasing professionalization within the “Art Worlds” (Becker, 1998), the latter notion necessarily covering not only those engaged specifically in artistic activities, but also those on the margins: major cultural entrepreneurs, urban planners and other stakeholders who may play a more or less lasting role, but who contribute, at a given moment, to the structuring of the field of cultural production. While a wide diversity of more or less self-taught protagonists are involved, artists of the Global South are still impacted by the paradox that what is most highly-valued on the global contemporary visual art market refers back to their origins, i.e. to ethnic criteria, whereas in fact many of them are striving to break free of them.

15This is, as Denis Vidal again notes, “a time when ‘globalisation’ and ‘identity’ seem paradoxically to form a viable couple” (Vidal 2009, p. 79). Thus, seen from this angle, artists’ trajectories are redefining the relationships between centres and peripheries and the point, as the articles in this issue suggest, is to study the way their creative processes are locally anchored (Christine Ithurbide) and the conditions under which contemporary artists emerge (Anahi Alviso), while also bearing in mind that institutions such as galleries, museums and art fairs (Brones, Moghadam) contribute to the inclusion of artists in art networks. These different approaches, focusing on specific situations, touch on various aspects of our understanding of the dynamics of the contemporary art market, as outlined by Olav Velthuis and Stefano Baia Curioni through the notion of “tissage” – interweaving (Velthuis, Baia Curioni, 2015). They point to three interlinked phenomena. First, the emergence of contemporary art markets on a global scale and the development of institutional networks and infrastructure enabling them to function; second, the transnational sales of contemporary art between galleries and collectors, and last, the inclusion of local contemporary art markets in a single global market based on the sharing and networking of the fundamental organisations and institutions.

16In addition, the study of widely diverse situations and places invites us also to historicise these processes insofar as the spread of art markets and the circulation of art-works and artists are not new phenomena. Existing literature on the constitution of the art market (Codell, 2003) or the circulation of artists in the Middle Ages (Recht, 1998) outlines comparable phenomena to those under study here. The existence of commercially-oriented cultural institutions is not recent, either, in most of the regions considered, but their structuring into local, regional and international networks would seem to be a new phenomenon. This is why we may now say that Dubai, in the UAE, may be considered as part of an Iranian artist’s regional environment: the city is a key access point to other artistic poles – especially the western one.

17The diversification of places for the production, sale and display of art may be seen as a characteristic feature of globalisation, just as it opens up a field of historical and sociological investigation into how such new geographies are formed. The apparently unifying dimension of the art market should not obscure the diversity of landscapes and practices that have their roots in highly distinct local contexts, or the gaping inequalities between North and South in terms of access to cultural supply and local dissemination, or indeed of arts education. One shared conclusion stands out through several contributions to this issue: the one that contradicts the idea that the development of art markets is a force for the emancipation of artistic practices, insofar as they are undertaken for speculative ends.

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Sophie Brones et Amin Moghadam, « New Markets and Territories for Art in the Cities of the Global South »Géographie et cultures [En ligne], 97 | 2016, mis en ligne le 06 avril 2018, consulté le 05 décembre 2020. URL :; DOI:

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Sophie Brones

École Nationale Supérieure d’Architecture de Versailles
LéaV / LAUM (IIAC, Ehess-Cnrs

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Amin Moghadam

Sharmin and Bijan Mossavar-Rahmani Center for Iran and Persian Gulf Studies
Princeton University

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