90692 - The System of Contemporary Art

Course Unit Page

  • Teacher Clarissa Ricci

  • Credits 6

  • SSD L-ART/03

  • Teaching Mode Traditional lectures

  • Language English

  • Campus of Bologna

  • Degree Programme Second cycle degree programme (LM) in Visual Arts (cod. 9071)

  • Teaching resources on Virtuale


This teaching activity contributes to the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN 2030 Agenda.

Quality education Gender equality Industry, innovation and infrastructure Reduced inequalities

Academic Year 2021/2022

Learning outcomes

Students acquire the methodology to understand and critically analyse the Art System. In particular, they develop the methodological tools to carry out independent research and they understand and recognize the historical and current roles of the System’s protagonists: artists, critics, collectors, museums, galleries, fairs.

Course contents

This course outlines the formation of the contemporary art system and its current configuration. The introductory lessons focus on the definition of what an art system is. Attention is also given to the debate around the notion of ‘emerging art’, highlighting how labels are means of defining a system and the main responses to this. The course is divided into two parts

Part 1: Contemporary Art and its system

These first lessons outline the contemporary art system as a value system, based on the circulation of art and its legitimation. Each lesson focuses on a specific agent of this system (ex. the gallery, the biennial, the fair, the dealer, the journal, and the collector). The notion of agency is thus examined through the practices and underling both specificities and contradictions. The art as a system is also examined as in relation to other systems, thus taking into account systems of images, politics, power, culture, and language. Particular attention is given to understanding the art market and how to conduct research. Lessons focus on specific topics analysed through case studies. Part of the lesson is devoted to discussing the proposed readings and in developing students’ research abilities through critical thinking.

The Course will touch upon the following topics:

  • What is a System: System Theory, the Art World, Fields of Cultural Production, Networks
  • Value: Economic and social Value, Reputation, Ranking Systems
  • Canvases and Careers Today: Interaction between gallery, artists, critic and curators
  • Exhibitions: Institutions, Foundations, Museum, Galleries, Institutional Critique.
  • Artists between Celebrity Culture and Market Reflexive Gestures
  • Circulation and Distribution in a Globalised World: Biennials and Art Fairs
  • Mediators: Dealers, Curators, Art Journals
  • Collectors: Art Investment, Patronage and Grants.
  • Public: Gaze and Spectatorship
  • Market: Auction Houses, Primary/Secondary Market, Sales


Part 2: Biennials and Globalization

The main topic of the second part is devoted to the circulation and distribution of contemporary art in a globalised world. The last five lessons are devoted to the history of biennials, the process of biennalization and the examination of consequences of the pandemic in the exhibition system. If possibile, we’ll visit the Venice Biennale exhibition.

The second part takes a seminar approach and lessons are ’hands on’. In small groups, students learn to make research on a shared topic in an interdisciplinary way. The seminar lessons guide students through research, data collecting, and writing process, while also providing background on research methodologies and academic standards. With the end goal of producing a notable study case, students make both a group work and personal assignment. The final outcome is a personal assignment which comprises the results of the group work. Details and guidelines will be available to students on the first day of the course.


Part 1:

The bibliography for the course takes a multidisciplinary approach and features excerpts of artists, art historians, economists, philosophers, scientists, and sociologists, including Bruce Altshuler, Tony Bennet, Howard Becker, Pierre Bourdieu, Daniel Buren, Arthur Danto, Andrea Fraser, George Dickie, Georg Franck, Alain Quemin, Martha Rosler, Terry Smith, Hito Steyerl, Olav Velthuis, and others.

The required readings for each lesson can be downloaded by students from “Teaching resources on Virtuale”.

Part 2:

Charles Green and Anthony Gardner, Biennials, Triennials and documenta, Wiley 2016

Non-attending students are invited to contact the professor well in advance to have indications on further readings and to discuss the assignment topic.

Teaching methods

Lectures and seminar meetings 

Restricted places for incoming exchange students:

Places for incoming exchange students in this teaching activity are limited and are primarily reserved to students enrolled in art related programmes at their home university.

To check availability, please write to amac@unibo.it

Assessment methods

Learning is assessed taking into account performance on both the written and the oral exam.

50% written work

The topic of the written paper is agreed on with the teacher, and the assignment must be delivered within one month of the end of the course lessons. The paper is part of a project that is carried out in the second part of the course. All students participate in this project, divided into groups.

50% oral exam

The oral exam is aimed at verifying the student’s knowledge of the material covered in the lessons and the readings assigned during the first part of the course. Therefore, questions will be asked both on the readings in the bibliography and on notes taken during the lessons.

Teaching tools

Interactive presentations, videos and PowerPoints.

Office hours

See the website of Clarissa Ricci