The Collecting Conundrum: Power and Ethics in the Acquisition of Self-Taught Art

Phoebe Millerwhite (Independent)

Prices for self-taught art have skyrocketed on the global art market, while issues of representation have become increasingly thorny. Less initiated into the intricacies of commercial art norms, self-taught artists are more often from marginalized communities such as neurodiverse, socioeconomically disadvantaged, ethnically underrepresented, or a combination of the three. Stories of plundering a poor artist for their body of work in exchange for a paltry sum abound in the commercial art world. These narratives are sometimes framed as an unfortunate but necessary evil (i.e. work might be lost if a sophisticated art dealer did not come along to save it), while at other times these narratives are held up as examples of exceptionally savvy business acumen. Through a historical and ethnographic lens, this paper examines the contemporary power dynamics at play when self-taught art becomes big business.

Part of 02-11 Reconsidering Folk and Self-Taught Art, Thursday, October 13, 10:30 am–12:30 pm