Special Events

Visible Hands: Markets and the Making of American Art

Friday, Tate

The ‘invisible hand’ of the market, an idea first coined by enlightenment philosopher Adam Smith, has become a fundamental principle for advocates of free market capitalism. Smith’s famous turn of phrase disembodies the sensations of sight and touch, but by restoring their primacy in this workshop’s title, his metaphor acquires new possibilities for tracing the influence of the market on works of art. Far from neutral or natural creations, markets – like artworks – are forms that are always composed and manipulated according to the interests of their makers.

This event brings together papers that explore the role of the market in the circulation and exchange of American art, and its visual and theoretical impact on the work of art itself. How did, for instance, the scale or materiality of works of art concretise their entanglement in economic systems? How are the dynamics of supply and demand, boom and bust, or other market phenomena apparent within particular artistic practices? How did critics and curators absorb the principles of the market in its approaches to the history of American art? What were the transnational ramifications of these intersections between art and economics? With scholarship concerning works from the late-nineteenth century until the late twentieth century presented, speakers engage questions such as these in order to explore the role of the market in the making of American art and art history.