This summer in Oakland, California, the intriguingly name Museum of Capitalism opened its doors, albeit temporarily. As Brandon Brown reports in Art in America, the museum, housed in an unused food hall, will be open until August 20, after which it will take on an itinerant existence. The museum invites visitors to imagine how we will look back at capitalism from a future in which this economic system has become a thing of the past. Here’s an excerpt from the Brown’s piece:
In other ways, though, the Museum of Capitalism is like any other museum. One must pass a desk where a security guard works all day, presumably beset by ennui as museumgoers sign in and file by. There’s a gift shop that sells standard museum trinkets, like tote bags and T-shirts. It also sells ordinary items like pieces of coal and minor luxury products such as dried porcinis, with tags explaining that these were once the happy objects of tragically exploited labor and expensive consumer desire. This furthers the Museum’s central, imaginary conceit: that capitalism is a thing of the past. Finally, like almost every other art institution, the Museum’s programming is supported by the philanthropy of wealthy patrons. In this case, it’s the Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, named for a woman whose family owned sheet metal factories that funded her passion for collecting art.
In a sense, every art museum is a “museum of capitalism” insofar as they are filled with works donated by patrons who accumulated fortunes through the exploitation of workers. It’s probably not surprising that the Museum doesn’t address the origin of the Tremaine family’s wealth, critically or otherwise. But this notable silence raises the question of whether or not—and how—the Museum offers a condemnation of capitalism at all. Perhaps “condemnation” is beside the point they are trying to make.
The Museum is organized by Fictilis, an artist duo made up of Timothy Furstnau and Andrea Steves, whose previous projects have explored systems of exchange in and around institutions. Furstnau has compared the Museum of Capitalism to other post hoc subject museums, like the museums of communism in Eastern Europe or the Apartheid Museum in Johannesburg. While those museums struggle to periodize historical conditions that have arguably not concluded, the Museum of Capitalism asks us to radically deny—in our imagination—conditions that can be witnessed right outside its doors. The works on display, many of which were commissioned for the exhibition, are ineluctably caught in this confusion of temporalities and moods.
Image via Art in America.