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Understanding consumers’ relationships with contemporary artworks through identity narratives

Georgia Stavraki (School of Economics, Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Thessaloniki, Greece)

Journal of Service Theory and Practice

ISSN: 2055-6225

Article publication date: 14 November 2016




This paper focuses on the relationships that consumers develop with experiential objects in the context of the Biennale of Contemporary Art Exhibition, viewed from a dialogical and intersubjective approach. The purpose of this paper is to elaborate on the interpersonal relationships that visitors of the Biennale establish with contemporary artworks and to understand the characteristics of these relationships as well as their role in shaping Biennale visitors’ identity narratives.


This research employs an instrumental case study that draws on multiple data sources and examines consumers’ relationships with contemporary artworks.


The case study evidence introduces the relationships that emerged from Biennale visitors’ interactions with contemporary artworks and the identity narratives evolving from these relationships. The findings suggest that Biennale visitors’ relationships with the contemporary artworks take the form of I-thou and I-it relationships. These two modes of interpersonal relationships by entailing different characteristics led investigated visitors to live different types of experiences of contemporary art consumption.

Research limitations/implications

The first limitation of this research is that it focuses on the establishment of interpersonal relationships at the microgenetic level. Further research can provide additional insights by conducting a longitudinal case study. The second limitation is that it provides limited insights into the relationships that are revealed by consumers’ experiences with possessive objects. Future research may examine interpersonal relationships in terms of consumers’ relationships with their brands.

Practical implications

The understanding of visitors’ interactions and relationships with contemporary artworks provides insights into curatorial and marketing practices for such art institutions.


The findings of the current research provide new theoretical insights into the interpersonal relationships that consumers develop with experiential objects and into the distinctive identity narratives that evolve from the establishment of different types of interpersonal relationships.



The author would like to thank the Contemporary Art Center for its hospitality and all the Biennale visitors who graciously and willingly participated in this research. In addition, the author would like to thank the two anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments.Financial support from the Research Committee of the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki, Greece is gratefully acknowledged.


Stavraki, G. (2016), "Understanding consumers’ relationships with contemporary artworks through identity narratives", Journal of Service Theory and Practice, Vol. 26 No. 6, pp. 811-836.



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