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 the 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 one-day workshop will seek to identify the traces of market capitalism on American art, exploring how the operation of the market might help us understand its forms and ideas, and the social ends that art serves.

The event will bring together papers that do not simply seek to describe the operation of the markets within which American art has been circulated and exchanged but also identify its visual and theoretical expressions. How did, for instance, the scale or materiality of works of art concretise their entanglement in economic systems? How might the dynamics of supply and demand, boom and bust, or other market cycles be apparent within particular artistic practices? How did writers 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? The workshop will be focused on American art of the postwar period but relevant research concerning other periods will be also be considered.

Papers might consider issues such as:
·        Dynamics of supply and demand
·        Taste, fashion and the cycles of the market
·        Collecting as investment, speculation and/or hoarding
·        Taxation, tariffs and trade regulation and the work of art
·        Economies of making and selling art (outsourcing, artificial scarcity etc.)
·        Markets, marketing and creation of artistic value
·        Studio-gallery-museum distribution systems
·        Art world competition, protection and monopolies

Presented as part of the Tate Research initiative Refiguring American Art, proposals are encouraged from art history, American studies, history, economics and other fields exploring the histories of capitalism.

Abstracts due 23 October 2015
Speakers notified by 30 October 2015
Papers should be 15–20 minutes in length.

To propose a paper, please email an abstract of 200 words or less and a 50-word biography in a single Word document to by 23 October 2015.

The workshop is one of a series of independent but related events being planned by Maggie Cao (Columbia University), Sophie Cras (Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne) and Alex J. Taylor (Tate) that are intended to explore economics as an emerging field of art historical inquiry. For more information email