Elusive, sometimes incomprehensible, always different. It is contemporary art: an extraordinary world that fascinates and divides, involves and disorients, creates debate and generates development.
Can sociology help us to understand contemporary art? It tried with great results the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, who in his long and varied career has favored an approach to art and culture under which these were intended as instruments of domination and distinction. According to Bourdieu, the field of contemporary art acquires an autonomy in the late nineteenth century in France thanks to the Impressionist movement that is free from dependence on patrons and clients and, above all, on the Academy until then sole and absolute holder of the monopoly of defining what could be defined art and who could be considered an artist. The end of that judgment given one once and for all by the Academy opens the field to institutions and artists who contribute and fight among themselves for the artistic legitimacy that is the power to define what is art and who is an artist.
Dealing with sociology of art today means to start right from Bourdieu’s cultural heritage finding a autonomous and current way because if the Bourdieu’s model developed in the heyday of the artistic movements of the 60s and 70s is perfectly applicable to the art history developed so far, which sees opposing movements and avant-gardes harbinger of different and opposing views, with the end of the avant-gardes and the advent of the Transavanguardia this model seems to be faltering as it seems to radicalize an unique and common artistic vision flattened on the dominant American model. Since the 80's in fact it begins to take shape the so-called "art system": the galleries, realizing that the investment on a particular artist can be much more profitable if based on the joint activity between artists, critics, dealers and auction houses (i.e. only if all are agree with), veering towards substantial and short- term investments on early career talents avoiding to wait for the slow process of consecration that until then had triumphed. The 80s, however, showed another great transformation: the artists with a fair economic capital invest about themselves and their art becoming managers of themselves apart from the help of gallery owners and art critics. Emblematic in this sense, the figure of the American artist Jeff Koons.
The 90s are the years of globalization and multiculturalism that in the arts means calling into question of the European and North American cultural hegemony (after the fall of the Berlin Wall) and inclusion of figures almost always marginalized in the past as the women and the so-called ethnic, social, cultural, sexual, and so on minorities leading us to a sort of extension of the artistic citizenship. These were the years of the loss of faith in the history and in the idea of progress as a reference point trying to go beyond the limits, beyond the not only geopolitical or cultural but also genetic and human boundaries (as do, for example, Matthew Barney, Orlan and Stelarc who change their own humanity starting from the progress of science or how make Christian Pintaldi, Glenn Brown, Alberto Di Fabio and Alessandro Moreschini competing through their virtuosity with the new technologies). The 2000 if does not determine anything new in terms of artistic genres marks instead the arrival in the West of artists from extra-occidental territories such as the Chinese artist Wang Qingsong who reflects in his works on the relationship between East and West.
How has it changed in recent years the role of the museum? What is the role of the private patrons today? The future of art is the overlapping between the art field and the other social fields? How has it changed the cultural consumption? There is still a place for responsibility? Several are the artistic scenarios in transformation... to understand them we must approach the art world without prejudice and with great humility. We have to record the changes in the art world no influencing with our evaluations the outcomes. We must listen to the message of the artists and believe with them for a possible change. We need to support a substantive democracy based on free education and critical and responsible exercise of our activities.