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Sotheby’s Institute of Art offers a unique academic approach to studying the global art market and also provides exposure to specialized topics that are central to the history and ongoing development of the international art world. Our faculty members are leading scholars and art world professionals who are experts in these subjects.

Art Fair Expertise

Art World Expertise
ART BASEL MIAMI: EVERYONE GOES FOR THE ART Art fairs have become premier embodiments of the expanding field of art business.

Art fairs play an important role in the Sotheby's Institute MA curriculum, both in the classroom and as part of each program’s global study trips. An integral part of the art market ecosystem, art fairs bring together artists, dealers, collectors, curators, critics, patrons, and other advocates of the visual arts all in one place at the same time. The fairs are often catalysts for a number of new ideas, projects, relationships and collaborations, and this gives the fair an important place, and a special kind of power, in the art world.


At Sotheby’s Institute, courses that cover the art market and the history of modern and contemporary art look at the fair as a phenomenon that has accompanied art's commercial rise over the past 150 years. In the last 20 years, the rise of the art fair has gone hand in hand with the rise of the international biennial - two platforms that have substantially increased the visibility and reach of contemporary art and artists. Indeed, the biennial and the fair have much to do with our understanding of what makes art 'contemporary.’


Outside of the classroom, our students travel to fairs and biennials all over the world, be it the Armory Show in New York, Art Basel Miami Beach, The European Fine Art Fair in Maastricht, the Venice Biennale, Art Basel Hong Kong, or any of the associated satellite events. Students have the opportunity to interact with the leadership and staff of these organizations to see what’s involved in mounting such massive, complex projects. As businesses that must concern themselves with real estate, finance, marketing, logistics, customer service, and public relations, art fairs have become premiere embodiments of the expanding field of art business, which is why we believe it’s so important for our students to be on the ground and experience these events first hand.

Art Law Expertise

Art World Expertise
Art law touches virtually every facet of the art business.

It concerns both the transactional side and the ethical underpinnings that affect the art trade, governing aspects of art production and reproduction, deal making, bequests, and artists’ rights. In an increasingly global art marketplace, both lawyers and practitioners must be aware of different and developing rules, and must be able to assimilate, understand and adapt. Each year legal issues such as Copyright, Authenticity, Art Theft, and Cultural Patrimony push the art world to shake up the traditional modus operandi and look to practitioners to become clearer about matters of increasing profile. What does this ever-evolving state of art law mean for the global art market?Is there a need for strict regulation or is there enough of a diverse range of sources to maintain effective practice?


By incorporating the study of art law into the curriculum of the MA programs at Sotheby’s Institute, we provide a thorough grounding in the most important legal principles affecting the art world today.Our unique approach weaves these principles with the ethical, practical and commercial aspects of life in the art world, providing art law teachings for art world practitioners as opposed to theoretical law for lawyers.


Art Law is a key component of the teaching in the Art Business MA programs in London, New York and Los Angeles and is part of the Core Curriculum offered across all of the Master’s programs. Instructors are dynamic practitioners in the field, bringing up-to-the-minute, real-life examples and experience directly into the classroom. Courses are taught not with the traditional rote case-study approach, but with a focus on essential legal principals and their applications to current issues. With our instructors’ standing within the Bar and other professional associations, Sotheby’s Institute students also attend exclusive professional symposia as well as courtroom discussions, which introduce them into the field within the course of their studies. Prominent speakers from the legal and art spheres are invited to guest lecture at the Institute, providing students with exposure to lawyers, gallerists, government officials and museum directors involved with art law. We believe this foundation within the context of the developing global art market equips students with vital knowledge for successful careers in the art world.

New and Emerging Markets Expertise

Art World Expertise
Art is a Passion Investment: A Conversation with Iain Robertson At Sotheby’s Institute of Art, we specialize in exploring markets located outside of the art world’s historic trans-atlantic axis.

Today’s art market is more expansive and more geographically diverse than ever before. As wealth moves from West to East and from North to South to newly industrialized countries such as China, there has been a marked shift in the investment of critical and curatorial capital: museums make more non-Western acquisitions, art history faculties hire more non-Western specialists, and influential galleries add more non-Western artists to their stables. Meanwhile, the institutional infrastructure of the art market proliferates globally—in the form of biennials, MoCAs, art fairs, mega-gallery showrooms, and auction house outposts. The process is ongoing, and unlikely to abate given the scale of economic change. What does this mean for the international art market? What challenges do new and emerging markets face?


We study the markets of countries in Asia, South America, Africa, and Eastern Europe that previously belonged to the so-called ‘second’ or ‘third’ world – places that have experienced significant wealth creation in recent years leading to high-growth economies. Many of these countries have seen a surge in art collecting as their nouveaux riches acquire art—for reasons ranging from a passion for visual culture to social prestige, philanthropy and investment.

We deal with these emerging markets across a number of disciplines: institutional, economic, financial, legal and ethical. In addition to organizing field study trips to important new centers—such as Hong Kong, Mexico City and Dubai—SIA offers specialized electives on new and emerging art markets and incorporates into its curricula the most up-to-date research on the global art market as well as guest lecturers from all over the world.

Object-based Study

Art World Expertise
Intense engagement with the materiality of art works is the start of a voyage of discovery that develops from the object.

Intense engagement with the materiality of art works is the start of a voyage of discovery that develops from the object; it initiates an investigation into the wider cultural, social and economic contexts which influenced the conception and creation of the work, and the subsequent story of its ownership, display and use, its critical reception and interpretation. The specificity of the work of art remains at the core of these investigations, but the object-based approach permits a richly-layered and multi-faceted understanding of the art work to emerge.

The depth and the breadth of an object-based approach thereby equips students with a wide range of skills that are applicable to a number of art world scenarios – public and private museums and art galleries, commercial galleries and auction houses – and to a wide range of art works, whether Old Master paintings, Chinese porcelain, photographs, modern design or contemporary art.
The ability to see and to read an art object - whether this is a painting, sculpture, chair or vase, whether it is from the 16th century or the 21st century, from Asia or Europe - is an essential skill for working in many areas of the professional art world. Since the founding of the original auction house training scheme in 1969, art education at Sotheby’s Institute has privileged an object-based approach which places the analysis of the individual work of art at the heart of academic enquiry.

Object-based study involves close and immersive investigation of the physical characteristics of an object - its form, structure, size, weight, subject matter. It entails detailed consideration of materials, techniques and methods of production, the condition of the art work and possible alteration over time. The specificity and materiality of the individual object is key to understanding the art work; who made it and when, why it was made, and what has happened subsequently in its history. First-hand experience of art works is crucial to this approach, hence the emphasis placed at Sotheby’s Institute of Art on handling sessions and also study visits to museums, galleries, fairs, the auction houses, artists’ studios and other venues, to see (and where possible touch) objects. The experience gained from this art work focused approach speaks powerfully to vital art world skills such as object-led research, cataloging, attribution and authentication.

In Situ Study

Art World Expertise
What Do We Mean by the In-Situ Study of Art?

Why do we go on study trips to further our understanding of art? Why are visits to studios, museums, galleries, fairs and biennials, in London and elsewhere, crucial to our programs at Sotheby’s Institute of Art? The short answer to these questions is that our work as art world professionals starts with the artwork itself—and works are viewable in the classroom only in reproductions that may fail to capture crucial details such as the shadows cast by a sculpture, audience tension at a performance, or the scale of a land art project. We prioritize immersive involvement because it enables us to engage with artworks in all their complexity. Participatory projects and complex installations in particular require first-hand experience.


A longer answer would home in on two aspects of the artwork as it is experienced in situ. First, many artworks today are made in response to a given site. One of the paradoxical effects of globalization is a growing interest in specific locations, their populations, histories and cultural traditions; and that interest is keenly felt by many in a globalizing art world. If an artist makes a site-specific work in response to a particular location, the best way to gain an understanding of the exact nature of that work is to view it in situ. At a time when movement and place are central artistic concerns, we need to move from place to place to view artworks in the locations for which they were made.


Our second reason for wanting students to see artworks in situ is an extension of the first. We prefer to view artworks not as objects that carry fixed meanings independently of the conditions under which they are shown but as creations that are activated by their contexts. Artworks may interact with the central narrative of a show, for instance, or the lighting and proportions of a room, or the history of a museum or gallery. We look at works in situ because that allows us to consider them in tandem with the curatorial schemes that condition our experience of them. As many students hope to take up curatorial roles in the future, an understanding of the framing of art objects is doubly important to us. We travel to a variety of art world destinations to consider experimental curatorial tendencies in the institutions that have pioneered them—which are often but not always small-ish public spaces. To study an artwork in situ is to recognize that all works enter into vital dialogues with their settings.


Of course, the in situ examination of specific works is not all we do, but our emphasis on first-hand engagement contributes to the distinctiveness of our programs and shapes what we do in the classroom. Our discussions of theoretical models, art historical trajectories, and current art world controversies are all sharpened by our encounters with specific works in their immediate surroundings.