The Social Construction of a Profession: Art Agents

By Delphine Naudier

Whether qualified as impresarios or art agents, these actors of the art world have acted as intermediaries in the art job market since the end of the 19th century. This article seeks to show how art agents have progressively constructed their profession, moving between no regulation at all to management and liberalization of their activity. Initially lacking control and discredited due to suspicions of cheating, the profession was controlled progressively by local and municipal authorities. The social construction of the profession relies on an effort to moralize and manage an activity which, after receiving an exemption while fee-paying booking agencies were being abolished, was finally legalized as a profession in December 1969. In 2004, another phase began, leading to the liberalization of the profession following the 2010 Bolkestein directive. The scope of the activity was widened from simply booking to the representation of professional interests; the legalization of their work was thus constructed at the junction of artist union struggles and the developing internal structure of a very heterogeneous and hierarchical profession.

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