'Making names': The cutting edge renewal of African art in New York City, 1985-1996

Craig M. Rawlings*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


This paper reconstructs a turning point in the symbolic production of African art as a fine art genre, when a 'new' variant was filtered into the market. This process is seen as part of the overall struggle of 'making names' - enacted by critics, curators, and dealers - that structures recognition, results in artistic change, and reproduces central distinctions in the fine art world. Informed by Bourdieu's formulation of cultural fields, the study is grounded in numerous sources, including fieldwork observations, secondary data analyses, a review of more than three hundred exhibitions, and interviews with key art world agents. To begin, the social organization of the mid-1980s New York art market is outlined as a spatial economy of name recognition, broadly composed of three agonistic segments. Afterward, the incorporation of a new African art into organizational and discursive structures is examined as the outcome of ongoing struggles between competing 'position-takings'. Symbolic and material exigencies within the art market motivating the selection of such works, as well as specific strategies used in framing them as creations of disinterested individuals, are also examined.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)25-54
Number of pages30
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2001

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Cultural Studies
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Linguistics and Language
  • Literature and Literary Theory


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