This article argues that the emergence of a trans-disciplinary discourse of ‘visual culture’ must be understood as, above all, a constitutively urban phenomenon. More specifically, it is in the historically new form of the capitalist metropolis, as described most famously by Simmel, that the ‘hyper-stimulus’ of modern visual culture has its social and spatial conditions. Paradoxically, however, it is as a result of this that visual culture studies is also intrinsically ‘haunted’ by a certain spectre of the invisible: one rooted in those forms of ‘real abstraction’ which Marx identifies with the commodity and the money form. Considering, initially, the canonical urban visual forms of the collage and the spectacle, these are each read in a certain relation to Simmel’s account of metropolitan life and of the money form, and, through this, to what the author claims are those forms of social and spatial abstraction that must be understood to animate them. Finally, the article returns to the entanglement of the visible and invisible entailed by this, and concludes by making some tentative suggestions about something like a paradoxical urban ‘aesthetic’ of abstraction on such a basis.