A Museum Looks Back on Capitalism


credit: Museum of Capitalism

Imagine a world without capitalism.

That simple yet seemingly impossible task is at the core of the Museum of Capitalism, a new speculative institution set to open its doors in Oakland, California, on June 17th. Through August 20th, the free museum will examine the complex mechanisms and consequences of, and forms of resistance to, the world’s primary economic system through works by over 60 artists, a library, a full calendar of public programming, and, fittingly—or perhaps ironically—a gift shop.

Tim Portlock, CA$H_4_GOLD. Courtesy of the Museum of Capitalism.

Visitors will be invited to reflect on capitalism as if looking back at it from a world in which capitalism is dead. “Much of the evidence of capitalism is either eroding over time or simply not known or easily accessible to the public,” the mission statement reads. “Our ambition is to connect and integrate these many efforts before the evidence is erased forever.”

Jordan Bennett, Artifact Bags (The Bay, Walmart and Target), 2013–15. Courtesy of the Museum of Capitalism.

The project was conceived by curatorial duo Andrea Steves and Timothy Furstnau, who registered the MuseumofCapitalism.org domain back in 2010, when British political theorist Alex Callinicos suggested, while speaking on a panel, that one day there would be a museum to memorialize capitalism, just as we have museums of apartheid and communism today.

But it wasn’t until Steves and Furstnau received the annual Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award for nearly $150,000 that the proposition finally came into focus. The Tremaine Foundation’s Art Program Manager Heather Pontonio says the award (the largest of its kind in the country) is reserved for daring proposals that other foundations typically wouldn’t fund.

Jennifer Dalton, Ask Not for Whom the Art is Intended, 2015. Courtesy of the Museum of Capitalism.

“If it would be [otherwise] funded, it’s probably not challenging enough,” she says. “It’s probably not taking that level of risk that we would like to see taken.”

And with past recipients of the award including Mass MoCA and the Queens Museum, the Museum of Capitalism is an especially remarkable winner: It’s the first ever awardee that isn’t an existing museum, but rather a project that takes the museum as its form...

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