Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures

School of Fine Art, History of Art and Cultural Studies

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Workshop with Nizan Shaked

Research Seminar Series image

Henry Moore Institute
74 The Headrow
Leeds LS1 3AH

A day of events with Professor Nizan Shaked, addressing the intersections of aesthetics and finance in the contemporary art market and museum.

Please book your place here via Eventbrite.

In the morning, there will be a presentation from Nizan Shaked, Professor of Contemporary Art History, Museum and Curatorial Studies at California State University Long Beach. The afternoon will be in the form of a seminar, based on a set of readings (see below).

The Substance of Symbolic Value: Museums, collections & the appearance of value in art

Despite recent fluctuations, the market for contemporary art has increased incrementally since the late 20th century, and has been at an all-time historic high since the beginning of the 21st century. Art institutions are intertwined in this trend, with record numbers of new museums dedicated to contemporary art opening across the globe, and established universal survey museums turning over more resources to exhibit and collect the current.

Yet, while historical artworks and collectibles have inheritance and rarity to guarantee their worth, what is it, beyond the market, that can insure the prices of contemporary art? Although art prices are determined on the market (auction houses, galleries, fairs, and other formats of art dealing), this paper makes the claim that the network of museums, nonprofit art spaces, and alternative spaces are a necessary condition in facilitating the market. Shaked focuses on collecting institutions, arguing that it is the unit of “the collection” that guarantees the symbolic value of art, giving it the power to siphon and hold objectified abstract labour.

This paper will use recent work on the value of art, with that of Diane Elson and Ann E. Davis, to describe the interaction between symbolic and monetary value and theorize its historical specificity in relation to the establishment of money as a general equivalent, both engaging and criticising Bourdieu’s notion of “symbolic value.” What was the substance of an object’s worth during the development of European mercantilism? How is it different under capitalism? Has the monetization and financialisation of art affected its flow, and what are the implications for the art institution today?

Nizan Shaked is Professor of Contemporary Art History, Museum and Curatorial Studies at California State University Long Beach, where she heads the Museum Studies Track in Art History. Author of The synthetic proposition: Conceptualism and the political referent in contemporary art (2017), Shaked’s current research explores the art market and the connection between financial and aesthetic mediations in the nonprofit museum system. She considers how civil society is moulded to support private wealth accumulation; how ambiguous legal/fiduciary structures are governed to access monetiseable information and administer tax shelters; how art institutions do not just mediate the state ideologically but are part of a complex “shadow-state” outsourcing of welfare.


The afternoon discussion will centre around four texts:

Bourdieu Pierre, ‘The Forms of Capital’, from J.E. Richardson (ed.), Handbook of Theory of Research for the Sociology of Education (Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1986), pp 241-58

Nizan Shaked, ‘Art and Value – Museum Collections as Commons’, forthcoming issue of Historical Materialism, and published here.

Beverley Best, ‘Distilling a Value Theory of Ideology from Volume Three of Capital’, Historical Materialism, 23.3 (2015), 101–141

Ann E. Davis, ‘The New “Voodoo Economics”: Fetishism and the Public/Private Divide’, Review of Radical Political Economics, 45.1 (2012), 42–58

The readings can be accessed here.

This event is co-organised by the Centre for Critical Materialist Studies and the Centre for the Study of the Art and Antiques Market.

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