Is Machiavelli Relevant to the Contemporary Art World?
This paper aims to provide a reading of art world actors and institutions, informed by the lessons offered by Niccolo Machiavelli in Il Principe, published in 1513. Claimed to be one of the first works of modern political philosophy and certainly one of the most influential and controversial texts of Western literature, a significant dialogue has existed in political theory and philosophy regarding this work's ongoing and contemporary relevance (Mansfield, 1996; D'Amanto, 1972; Strauss, 1954, to name a few). More recently, on the eve of its 500th year anniversary, the book has itself witnessed a renaissance by scholars who have re-assessed it arguing for a more nuanced and positive interpretation (Viroli, 2013). Drawing on the method of using metaphors from other fields to explain current socio-economic structures (Bronk, 2009), this paper will consider whether Machiavelli's insights might help inform a better understanding of both the extremes and wider trends of the contemporary art market.
With its various passages on the acquisition and retention of power, on the qualities necessary for leadership, especially in times of significant turmoil and extreme uncertainty, and the tools and tricks of influence and control, The Princeclearly has currency in any highly uncertain environment where actors have to make decisions with potential major consequence based on little or difficult to access prior information. Although possibly not as significant as concerns about the survival of Princes and States, art world actors and institutions arguably share some contextual and personal qualities with Machiavelli's intended.