Cultural re-branding, that is, provided cities competing globally, and regardless of the nation-states in which they were situated, for investment and tourism. Culture provided the imagery – the seeming – which was required for the construction of a symbolic economy. Sociologist Sharon Zukin defines this as [t]he look and feel of cities [which] reflect decisions about what – or who – should be visible and what should not, concepts of order and disorder, and on uses of aesthetic power' (Zukin 1995: 7). As a marketing device, a symbolic economy masks the conflicts and contested claims for space which occur in a layered built or social environment.
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It enhances a primacy of visuality – an emphasis on image translated into sites for the display of images, whether as art or style – as the sense offering the most mastering, as geographer Doreen Massey puts it, over space (Massey 1994: 223-24). Key to the symbolic image was, in many cases, a new, flagship cultural institution (such as Tate Modern in London and the Guggenheim in Bilbao). Other strategies included the demarcation of heritage and cultural quarters (Bell and Jayne 2004), and redevelopment of waterfronts for a mix of uses, with marinas, warehouse conversions, art galleries, designer shops and public promenades.
As said above, the context for all such initiatives was the de-industrialization produced by global shifts of production, the rise of immaterial production in the global North, and the growth of lifestyle consumption with its associations with a creative class.
Perhaps there was already a synergy between the world of immaterial production and that of the expanding art world. Within the art world, the production of reputations began to replace that of art objects when artists who had rejected the tradition of the object in 1960s' conceptualism (often for socio-political reasons) were drawn back into the mainstream market through exhibitions of documentation or publication of attractive colour-plate blogs on their walks or twig sculptures in the woods. Sociologist Howard Becker wrote in 1982:
Art worlds routinely make and unmake reputations – of works, artists, schools, genres, and media.
They single out from the mass of more or less similar work done by more or less interchangeable people a few works and a few makers of works of special worth. They reward that special worth with esteem [and] use reputations, once made, to organize other activities.