If the commodity is, as Karl Marx wrote, a mysterious thing, then perhaps no type of commodity is more mysterious than a work of art. This course takes an historical and critical view of a quintessentially neoliberal system: the contemporary art world. Of particular interest is the notion of value, and the ways in which artworks complicate classical Marxian definitions. What is a work of art for? What values does it provide? How is value determined, and by whom? We will investigate such concepts as capital, labor, consumption, spectacle, deskilling, and globalization, specifically with regard to art-world phenomena: auctions, blockbusters, “art stars,” biennials and fairs, collectors and dealers. Specific case studies will include both historical milestones in the commodification of art – the rise of mercantilism in the Italian Renaissance, for example, and the transition in 18th century France from “picture shops” to “galleries” – and contemporary artists who blur the line between commercial and critical practice: Warhol, General Idea, Koons, Hirst, Murakami, Sehgal, and others. We will ask, finally, whether it is possible for art workers to resist the market – and should they?
Interdisciplinary Seminars (IDSEM-UG)