American Sociological Association

Larissa Buchholz Dissertation Award Statement


Larissa Buchholz

Larissa Buchholz, currently a Junior Fellow at the Harvard Society of Fellows, wrote “The Global Rules of Art” while at Columbia University, under the sponsorship of Gil Eyal and with Diane Vaughan and Peter Bearman as committee members. Her dissertation is a pathbreaking study of the emergence of a global field in the visual arts, and an examination of the different ways that artists become valued worldwide. The study begins with a theoretical puzzle: as globalization entails extraordinary cross-border flows and growing transnational valuation of cultural goods, will these dynamics lead to the extended dominance of cultural goods from a few Western countries, resulting in cultural homogeneity, or enable greater circulation and recognition of cultural creations from non-Western regions, and thereby produce increased cultural diversity? Rather than approaching this puzzle as an either/or dilemma, Buchholz proceeds by examining the diverse processes through which artists from non-Western regions come to be recognized and valued in this emerging global field.

What follows is a theoretically and methodologically sophisticated analysis of how a global field has emerged in the visual arts, and how it operates at the micro, meso, and macro levels. Buchholz applies and extends Pierre Bourdieu’s theory of the field of cultural production, developed only to explain Western art. Drawing masterfully on the relevant literatures in French, English and German, she discusses and develops a transnational element of this theoretical framework that expands it from a national to a global scale. Buchholz then develops an extremely ambitious mixed-method empirical design to answer her theoretical question. She traces the emergence and evolving characteristics of a global art field by using a broad range of objective and subjective indicators, including leading quantitative art indices, interviews with curators, gallery owners, and auction house agents. She maps the worldwide diffusion of transnational public and commercial art institutions across 149 countries and shows how the global art field is mainly comprised of two global institutional circuits of cultural flows and valuation – the global exhibition circuit and the global auction market.

Buchholz establishes that there are systematically different conditions of worldwide artistic recognition in globalizing circuits that are oriented by, on the one hand, the commercial logic of exchange as represented in the global auction market, and on the other hand, a logic of cultural prestige and charisma, as found in the global exhibition circuit. She analyzes the career patterns of around 180 worldwide leading artists and shows that the higher the artist’s transnational economic success, the lower the symbolic prestige and vice versa. Contrary to established accounts that associate globalization with the unmitigated rise of market forces for determining artistic prestige across borders, Buchholz reveals that the visual arts are fundamentally structured around a dual cultural world economy, and meticulously reveals its unique cultural, social, and geographic characteristics. To illuminate how its distinctive forms of recognition unfold, Buchholz develops qualitative case studies of the biographies of two outstanding non-western artists, Gabriel Orozco from Mexico and Yue Minjun from China – one successful in terms of worldwide cultural recognition and the other a superstar in the global economic art market, whose works achieved multi-million dollar prices. The case studies ask how the artists were able to arrive at a dominant position in the global field in their respective forms of recognition, despite coming from the former artistic periphery. Through numerous interviews with artists, curators, private collectors, critics, and other art professionals in Europe, Asia, North- and Latin America, as well as abundant secondary sources, the dissertation charts their careers and illustrates the forces and dynamics operating at the levels of national and global artistic fields, especially the changing roles played by collectors, investment houses, and curators across national borders. The dissertation underscores the importance of considering the institutional diversity of globalizing cultural realms to identify the logics and processes by which they work globally.

The Global Rules of Art breaks new ground in its integration of the sociology of art, cultural sociology, and economic sociology with globalization and the diffusion of ideas associated with it. Yet its value and importance go further, in the elaboration of an innovative method for studying global processes. While the dissertation’s empirical subject matter is the visual arts, Buchholz makes a major contribution in establishing a research program for the study of global fields. She develops innovative theoretical concepts necessary for such sociological analysis, and the methodology and research design for others to apply to new substantive areas. This outstanding work is likely to influence how sociologists study globalization in numerous realms.