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Contemporary Art as a Commodity

Evening Lecture/Seminar

Monday, February 22, 2021 - 6:45 p.m. to 8:45 p.m. ET
Code: 1J0045
This program is part of our
Smithsonian Associates Streaming series.
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Maurizio Cattelan’s duct-taped banana at Art Basel Miami Beach

“Art is money! Art is money-sexy! Art is money-sexy-social-climbing-fantastic!” —Thomas Hoving, former director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art

When a Damien Hirst formaldehyde shark in a private collection, a partially shredded Banksy print at auction, and a banana duct-taped to a wall at Art Basel Miami Beach are worth millions of dollars, what does it say about how we value contemporary art?

Ellen Gorman, a lecturer in the Department of English at Georgetown University, draws on her background in aesthetics, cultural theory, and cultural studies to offer a survey of the history of the American art market from the 1950s to the present. In the process, she introduces the cast of players and corporate entities behind the transformation of artworks into commodities for sale to the highest bidder. They include auction houses, collectors, artists, and dealers, as well as private banks, hedge funds, and law firms.

Learn about what or who loses or gains in an almost-unregulated art market in which works of contemporary art—such as a Warhol fright wig or a Hirst dot painting—now exist as money capital alone. Has contemporary art been demystified in order to take on its role in the market as pure currency? What happens when artworks are no longer referred to as “works” but rather as “things”? Thomas Hoving’s “Art is money!” observation on the New York art scene of the 1960s may never have been more relevant.

World Art History Certificate elective: Earn 1/2 credit*

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*Enrolled participants in the World Art History Certificate Program receive 1/2 elective credit. Not yet enrolled? Learn about the program, its benefits, and how to register here.