The issue of the institutional context in which art is created, explained, exhibited and transformed is often left out of the contemporary art discourse. The content of this article is largely determined by the researcher's subjective interest in the ambivalent and disputable phenomenon of 'new institutionalism'. The author has attempted to follow the chain of causalities, the how and why society has gradually developed such art institutions and what sorts of theoretical positions have fostered this process. The first cultural institutions (private music ensembles, theatre groups, painting collections, libraries, etc.) were created and supported by the aristocracy, representing their privileged culture and education. Artistic phenomena were the brand of a cultured society and everybody aspiring to ascend the social hierarchy had to achieve competence in cultural processes, to know their codes, quotes and references. In the 18th and 19th centuries, Western Europe underwent a series of revolutions followed by political and economic transformations of various degrees of intensity. Rapid industrial development gradually diverted financial resources from the aristocracy to the bourgeoisie but the idea of elitist culture was inherited and maintained. Cultural institutions were financed by so-called patrons or impresarios who were no longer aristocrats but successful entrepreneurs. They strove to uphold the aristocratic system of values reflected in the processes initiated by culture institutions. Institutions were still subjected to a select, small part of society. After World War II a totally opposite tendency emerges - culture institutions begin to receive funding from the taxpayer, not private capital and thus became subject to the needs, taste and ideas of the wider public.