Countless academics have long foretold the end of capitalism. One artist duo is bringing all that theorizing down to earth with a museum to memorialize the world’s premier economic and political system, should the end be nigh.
The Museum of Capitalism (MOC), which opened its door this month in Oakland, California, is dedicated to “educating this generation and future generations about the ideology, history, and legacy of capitalism,” the museum’s site states. Visitors are invited to reflect on capitalism as if they resided in a post-capitalist era.
Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau (the artists that make up FICTILIS) registered the domain MuseumofCapitalism.org in 2010 after listening to a political theorist give a moving account of visiting the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg, and speculate that a museum might also one day memorialize the end of capitalism. The duo set immediately to the task, with a mission of tying the economic system’s history to race, class, and the environment.
Museums tend to leverage the hindsight of history; creating one about an economic and political system in which we are completely immersed is much harder. Could you, for instance, think critically about the concept of water if you’d spent your whole life swimming in it? Steven and Furstnau knew they had to create enough distance from capitalism’s structures to see them for what they are.
They gathered artifacts from capitalism to ensure future generations wouldn’t forget how people worked, ate, socialized, and entertained themselves. “Our educational work is crucial for establishing justice for the victims of capitalism and preventing its resurgence,” the museum’s mission statement reads. The museum also highlights the “vast number of individuals and communities around the globe who resisted capitalism and helped to develop alternatives to it, serving as an inspiration to future generations.”
Among the varied installations is an interactive piece by Hong Kong artist Christy Chow, which invites visitors to run on a treadmill while watching a video of a garment being stitched in a factory. When the user goes on the treadmill, it speeds up the pace of those working. In another work by Chow, visitors can watch a video of a garment being destiched, alongside the garment itself. Chow says her work explores the boundary between leisure and exploitation.
In other installations, visitors watch a company’s annual shareholders meeting to see capitalism in action, view a display of flags bearing the insignia of banks that closed following the 2008 financial crisis, and browse through a library to learn more about the history of capitalism (its books include David Harvey’s Seventeen Contradictions and the End of Capitalism and Geoffrey Hodgson’s Conceptualizing Capitalism).
The museum is fittingly set in Oakland’s Jack London Square, a developed waterfront area that was intended to be a tourist destination, but has remained mostly abandoned. The museum also exhibits a machine that emits pennies at the rate of US minimum wage (by Blake Fall-Conroy), one year’s worth of credit card offers sealed in custom acrylic briefcase (by Jennifer Dalton), and print order forms of gold teeth (by Sadie Barnette). There’s even a recreation of a museum gift shop, because art is no escape.