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Study information

Institutions and Agencies: the Business of Contemporary Art

Module titleInstitutions and Agencies: the Business of Contemporary Art
Module codeAHVM001
Academic year2024/5
Module staff

Professor Tom Trevor (Convenor)

Duration: Term123
Duration: Weeks


Number students taking module (anticipated)


Module description

This module explores the multifaceted apparatus of the contemporary art world, from public galleries and museums to the commercial sector, from art fairs to international biennials, from collections and collectors to commissioning agencies and socially engaged projects, as well as the critical, institutional and economic structures that support them. It provides you with an overview of the multiple roles of the curator, along with their historical grounding, and is designed to equip you with the understanding and skills necessary to navigate your way through this complex system.

The module also investigates the economics of the art world, including the role of auction houses and the commercial gallery sector, and their relationship to the public sector, the direct patronage of artists and exhibitions, the acquisition of contemporary art (including digital art, installation, performance, sonic art, etc.) by both public and private collectors, the theoretical and practical contexts for devising exhibitions and the constraints that govern curatorial decisions. In addition, there will be a series of seminars focusing on professional practice, providing practical business knowledge and curatorial methodologies in relation to project development, fundraising and partnerships, financial management and administration, and how to communicate your ideas to diverse audiences. There will also be a series of studio workshops exploring curatorial and artistic practice. During Term 1 you will visit a variety of exhibition venues and arts institutions, as well as participating in discussions with art world professionals.

This module is suitable for non-specialist students.

This module is recommended for interdisciplinary pathways.

Module aims - intentions of the module

This module aims to:

  • enable you to gain an advanced understanding of the contemporary art world’s major stakeholders
  • offer opportunities for the focussed study and analysis of specific critical, institutional and economic structures supporting the production of global contemporary art
  • encourage curiosity and creativity identify and discuss significant issues and debates relating to the development of the contemporary art world in a global context
  • provide training in professional practices and curatorial methodologies, as well the histories of curating
  • initiate and develop productive research methods and strategies on which to build sustained interpretative and analytic accounts 

Intended Learning Outcomes (ILOs)

ILO: Module-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 1. Describe the major types of economic and institutional structures supporting contemporary art, in a global context
  • 2. Assess the significance of the international art market, and discriminate between public and private stakeholders in the promotion of contemporary art
  • 3. Understand the relationship between media exposure, arts criticism, reputation and collections policy, and discriminate between public and private stakeholders in the promotion of contemporary art
  • 4. Articulate an informed understanding of the social and political contexts affecting the production and circulation of contemporary art in different countries

ILO: Discipline-specific skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 5. Demonstrate an advanced knowledge of the theoretical debates in the field of contemporary art (art historical, museological, sociological, etc.)
  • 6. Possess a good understanding of the practical constraints associated with collecting/preserving particular genres of contemporary art
  • 7. Have a good understanding of a range of current curatorial strategies, in a global context
  • 8. Apply appropriate critical methodologies when reviewing the display of contemporary works of art

ILO: Personal and key skills

On successfully completing the module you will be able to...

  • 9. Demonstrate critical acumen and originality in analysing a display, collection or policy in a systematic and analytical manner
  • 10. Exercise autonomy and initiative in research and writing

Syllabus plan

Whilst the content may vary from year to year, it is envisioned that it will cover some or all of the following topics:

  • Lectures (weekly) will involve analysis and discussion of a selection of significant contemporary art institutions, structures and agencies, public and private. Attention will be paid to economic, social, political and ideological contexts.
  • Field trip (3 days) will include visits to relevant art fairs, museums, galleries and other institutions in a major centre for international art. Discursive sessions will be held in relation to collection displays or exhibitions encountered on the trip.
  • Seminars (weekly) are intended as student presentations and group discussion with a seminar tutor’s guidance. A set of required readings and bibliographic suggestions will structure and guide students’ initial studies, but it is expected that students will develop ideas and research strategies more independently.
  • In addition, a series of weekly workshops will provide professional training in curatorial practice and conventions. 
  • Tutorials (1 x 30 minutes): one-to-one meetings between each student and their module tutor.

Learning activities and teaching methods (given in hours of study time)

Scheduled Learning and Teaching ActivitiesGuided independent studyPlacement / study abroad

Details of learning activities and teaching methods

CategoryHours of study timeDescription
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 1111 x 60-minute lectures
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 1010 x 60-minute seminars
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 342 x 90-minute symposia (formative presentations)
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 1510 x 90-minute workshops
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 93-day field trip to London art venues
Scheduled Learning and Teaching 0.51 x 30-minute individual tutorial session spread across the term to check on individual student’s progress
Guided Independent Study30Independent/group reading of selected critical texts for symposium presentation
Guided Independent Study60Reading and research in preparation for field trip
Guided Independent Study135.5Reading and preparation for lectures, seminars and assessed coursework

Formative assessment

Form of assessmentSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Seminar presentation15-minute individual oral presentation (PowerPoint presentation and hand-outs used in presentation submitted to tutor(s) at the end of presentation)1-10Oral feedback in class, written feedback from tutor(s)

Summative assessment (% of credit)

CourseworkWritten examsPractical exams

Details of summative assessment

Form of assessment% of creditSize of the assessment (eg length / duration)ILOs assessedFeedback method
Essay 1554000 words1-10Feedback sheet with tutor follow up
Essay 2453000 words1-10Feedback sheet with tutor follow up

Details of re-assessment (where required by referral or deferral)

Original form of assessmentForm of re-assessmentILOs re-assessedTimescale for re-assessment
Essay 1Essay (4000 words) 1-10Referral/deferral period
Essay 2Essay (3000 words)1-10Referral/deferral period

Re-assessment notes

Deferral – if you miss an assessment for certificated reasons judged acceptable by the Mitigation Committee, you will normally be either deferred in the assessment or an extension may be granted. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of deferral will not be capped and will be treated as it would be if it were your first attempt at the assessment.

Referral – if you have failed the module overall (i.e. a final overall module mark of less than 50%) you will be required to submit a further assessment as necessary. The mark given for a re-assessment taken as a result of referral will be capped at 50%.

Indicative learning resources - Basic reading

Basic reading:

  • Altshuler, B. Biennials and beyond: exhibitions that made art history, 1962-2002, Phaidon 2013
  • Altshuler, B. et al. A Manual: For the 21st Century Art Institution, Walther König, Köln, 2009
  • Barker, E. Contemporary Cultures of Display, Yale University Press, 1999
  • Bishop, C. Artificial hells: participatory art and the politics of spectatorship, Verso 2012
  • Becker, H. Artworlds, Berkeley 1982
  • Bishop,C. Participatory Art and the Politics of Spectatorship, Verso, 2012
  • Bourdieu, P. Distinction: a social critique of the judgement of taste, Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1984
  • Bourriaud, N. Relational Aesthetics, Les Presses du Réel, 2002
  • Cook, S. & Graham, B. Rethinking Curating: Art After New Media, MIT Press, 2010
  • Cook, S.,   Gfader, V.,   Graham, B. & Lapp, A. A Brief History of Curating New Media Art - Conversations with Curators, Berlin, The Green Box, 2010
  • Danto, A. ‘The Artworld’, Journal of Philosophy, vol.61, no.19, 15 October 1964, pp. 571-84
  • Fox, D.M. Engines of Culture: Philanthropy and Art Museums, New Brunswick: Transaction, 1965
  • Gielen, P. (Ed.) Institutional Attitudea Valiz, 2013
  • Hackforth-Jones, J. & Robertson, I. Art Business Today: 20 Key Topics (Handbooks in International Art Business), Lund Humphries, 2016
  • Hoffmann, J. Ten Fundamental Questions of Curating, Mousse, 2013
  • Horowitz, N. Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market   Princeton UP, 2014
  • Klanten, R. (ed.), Art & Agenda: Political Art & Activism, Gestalten, Berlin, 2011
  • McAndrew, C. (ed.) Fine Art and High Finance: Expert Advice on the Economics of Ownership, Bloomberg,   2010
  • Montmann, N. (Ed.) Art and Its Institutions, Black Dog Publishing, 2006
  • O’Neill, P The cultures of curating and the curating of culture(s), MIT Press, 2012
  • Paul, C. New Media in the White Cube & Beyond, University of California Press, 2008
  • Pearce, S. Collecting in contemporary practice, Sage, 1998
  • Rancière, J. The Emancipated Spectator, Verso 2011
  • Rand, S. (ed.) Cautionary Tales: Critical Curating, Apex, 2007
  • Robertson, I. Understanding Art Markets: Inside the world of art and business, Routledge 2015
  • Robertson, I. A New Art From Emerging Markets, Lund Humphries, 2011
  • Rogoff, I. Terra Infirma, Routledge, 2000
  • Ross, A. ‘The Great un-American numbers game’ in Real Love: In Pursuit of Cultural Justice, Routledge, 1998,  pp. 117-48.
  • Steedman, M. Gallery as Community: Art, Education, Politics, Whitechapel Gallery, 2012
  • Velthuis, O. Talking Prices: Symbolic Meanings of Prices on the Market for Contemporary Art, Princeton UP, 2007

Indicative learning resources - Web based and electronic resources


Indicative learning resources - Other resources

  • Lawrence Alloway, ‘Network: The Art World Described as a System’, Artforum, vol.11, no.1, September 1972

Key words search

Contemporary art; visual art; art curator; curatorial practice; galleries; museums; art collections; collectors; art fairs; auction houses; biennials

Credit value30
Module ECTS


Module pre-requisites


Module co-requisites


NQF level (module)


Available as distance learning?


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Last revision date