Accessibility statement

Art as Commodities / Commodities as Art: An Interdisciplinary Conference

Friday 14 June 2019, 9.30AM


Organised by Adam Sammut, Simon Spier and Apurba Chatterjee,
with assistance from Dr Cordula van Wyhe.

Generously supported by WRoCAH, CREMS and ALCS.

‘Cultural entities typical of the culture industry are no longer also commodities, they are commodities through and through’. Theodor Adorno, “Culture Industry Reconsidered” (1967).

When art makes the headlines, it is usually about money. In 2017, Leonardo da Vinci’s 'Salvator Mundi' sold for over $450 million at Christie’s New York. Just how can a painting be worth more than a penthouse on Fifth Avenue?

A propensity for truck, barter and exchange is one of visual art’s defining characteristics. This conference will explore the conceptual interrelationships between art and commodities, encompassing a range of media from paintings to artefacts.

Are artworks ‘commodities through and through’, or are they economically exceptional? The brand equity of a Picasso or Fabergé, compounded with their provenance or “social life”, suggest so. As desirable objects, artworks are often meta-desirable. The 'Paston Treasure' is a mirror of luxury that was itself luxurious to own. Mundane objects, meanwhile, have a history of aesthetic transfiguration, especially materials of the craft. Did artists possess a kind of Midas touch?

This conference will demonstrate the centrality of markets to art’s modern cultural ascendancy, while also recasting art objects as bodies of knowledge and vehicles of cultural exchange through networks of global trade.

Register via Eventbrite

Bursaries for self-funded PhD students are available covering the registration fee (£19). To apply, please email with your thesis title and a brief statement of purpose.



9.30-10.00 am     REGISTRATION

10.00-10.15 am    OPENING REMARKS

Adam Sammut, University of York

10.15-11.15 am    PANEL 1

Isabella Lores-Chavez, Columbia University
To Have and Behold: Pieter Claesz and the Plaster Collectible    

Rachel Masters Carlisle, Florida State University
From Florence to Flanders: Michelangelo’s Bruges Madonna as an Object of Conspicuous Consumption

11.15-11.30 am    COFFEE BREAK (provided)

11.30-12.30 am    PANEL 2

Dr Marianne Eekhout, Dordrechts Museum
Priceless: the Power of Memory and the Art Market in the Low Countries

Rory McInnes-Gibbons, Durham University
The Ruins of Palmyra: A Harbinger of Taste and Value at the Origin of Neo-Classicism

12.30-1.30 pm     LUNCH (provided)

1.30-2.30 pm      PANEL 3

Katharine Ault, The Open University
Private Ownership, Public Display and Commodification: Ugolino di Nerio’s Santa Croce Polyptych in Nineteenth-Century Britain.

Lucy West, Leeds/The National Gallery/Bowes Museum
Priceless: Oettingen-Wallerstein and the Unsaleable Collection, 1847-1863.

2.30-3.30 pm      PANEL 4

Mariko Hirabayashi, University of York
The Japonism Market in Later Nineteenth-Century London: The Japanese Gallery, Watanabe Seitei and John Varley Jr.

Maria Golovteeva, University of St Andrews/Christie’s
Commodifying Congo in late-nineteenth-century Belgium: Ivory in Art and Writings of Fernand Khnopff.

3.30-3.45 pm      COFFEE BREAK (provided)

3.45-4.45 pm      PANEL 5

Dr Tom Wilkinson, Warburg Institute
Making Money: Artists’ Banknotes of the German Inflation, 1914-1923

Inbal Strauss, University of Oxford
The “Products” of Artistic Production: Thinking about Art in Design Terms

4.45-5.00 pm      CLOSING REMARKS

Simon Spier, University of Leeds/Bowes Museum

5.00-6.00 pm      KEYNOTE

Dr Leah R. Clark, The Open University
Between Commodity and Gift: Some Thoughts on Early Modern Objects

6.00-6.45 pm      WINE RECEPTION (Dept. History of Art, foyer)

Location: The Tree House, Berrick Saul Building, University of York.