The Work of Art: From the Labor of Industry to the Joy of Concept.

Ivana Bago
Arts and Society, Cross-Disciplinary Strategies
2020S, Lecture and Discussion (VD), 3.0 ECTS, 2.0 semester hours, course number S03243


A carpenter works to produce a table, but an artist works to produce (a) work. By clinging to this quaint tautology, the work of art retains a direct tie with labor as its source, making tangible the otherwise obfuscated bond between results and processes of human production, and turning art production into a lesson on the very conditions of production. This is the lesson that we will explore in this course, by examining the history and the transformations of art in conjunction with the transformations of the modes of production and conditions of labor. In doing this, we will not see the artwork as simply a reflection of the hegemonic social structures, but will inquire as to the particular nature of the work of art, namely the work that art does and that both perpetuates and disables these structures, relative to changing historical and geopolitical conditions. We will pay special attention to the processes of the deskilling and the dematerialization of art, and examine Conceptual Art as a vantage point from which to consider contradictions between art’s historical quest for autonomy – including a liberation from its dependence on manual and industrial labor – and its ongoing dependence to and alignment with the transmutations of the capitalist market. The question of autonomy will also be discussed from the perspective of the relation of artistic and other practices, such as science, technology, knowledge production, theory, and activism.

The class will be organized in a set of thematic blocks, which will be explored from a theoretical and historical perspective, and our discussions will include topics such as: world fairs, biennials and the exhibitionary complex; art workers and class consciousness; the notion of the avant-garde; (socialist) realism and abstraction; conceptual art and the curatorial turn; (im)material labor; art and autonomy; art and technology; art and money; art and social change; collective work; art, feminism and social reproduction; art and decolonization. While there will be recurring references to the earlier phases of the development of modern art, in particular the nineteenth century when art is consolidated as a specialized field in the processes of the capitalist division of labor, we will focus most of our attention to selected case studies and readings referring to transnational histories of twentieth-century art and contemporary developments. 

The class will include lectures and guest lectures, group work, discussions, exhibition excursions, and in-class collaborative readings and film/video viewings. The major aim of the class is to provide students with tools that will help them define the positioning of their own practice with regard to both historical examples and present-day conditions of artistic production.

Examination Modalities

Attendance and participation in class discussions 40%

Class assignments 30 %

Final assignment (own project in the form of essay, lecture performance, artistic intervention, presentation - students are free to choose the format in agreement with the instructor) 30%



Students from other faculties or universities will be given a place on the course subject to room capacities.

Key Words

art history, contemporary art, art and labor, conceptual art, autonomy, exhibition history


24 March 2020, 13:45–18:00
27 March 2020, 14:00–15:40 , ""
31 March 2020, 18:00–19:00 , ""
02 April 2020, 18:00–19:30 (guest lecture)
03 April 2020, 12:30–15:00 , "Reading and Discussion"
06 April 2020, 13:00–14:00 , ""
21 April 2020, 18:00–19:00 , ""
24 April 2020, 12:30–13:30, ""
27 April 2020, 13:00–14:00, ""
05 May 2020, 18:00–19:40, "Group assignment presentations"
08 May 2020, 13:00–14:00, ""
12 May 2020, 18:00–19:00, ""
14 May 2020, 18:00–19:00 (guest lecture)
26 May 2020, 18:00–19:40, "Reading and Discussion,"
05 June 2020, 18:00–19:40, ""
08 June 2020, 15:00–16:00, ""
09 June 2020, 18:00–19:40, ""
15 June 2020, 18:00–19:40, ", Reading and Discussion"
16 June 2020, 18:00–19:40, ", Final project ideas and closing discussion"

Course Enrolment

Until 01 April 2020, 14:25
Via online registration

co-registration: possible

Cross-Disciplinary Strategies (Bachelor): Deepening and Application: Artistic Strategies

Individual courses: possible