The Price of Order: Consecration and the Formation of Economic Value in the Market for Modern Art

Fabien Accominotti, London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE)

Using the art field as an empirical backdrop, this article outlines a theory of consecration as a unique process of status production. Consecration is usually seen as happening to individuals. This article instead looks at consecration as a field-level phenomenon – that is, as the enactment, by a field’s institutions, of crisp hierarchies of worth among the members of their field. This approach, I argue, highlights consecration’s distinct character as a mechanism of status creation: it enhances the perceived worth of things, not by signaling that they are individually worthy, but by suggesting that they sit atop reliable hierarchies. My account further implies that consecration is most consequential in fields where the criteria defining worth are disputed and in flux. The empirical analysis in this article leverages this insight to explain how, in the heyday of modernism, market institutions created value for artists by consecrating an anomic art field.

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 Presented in Session 62. Classification and Consecration