Museum of Capitalism is a framework for a variety of projects that use the form of a museum to analyze and historicize capitalism, through a variety of public programming including exhibitions and designed exhibits, workshops, lectures, and other events.
In Summer 2017 FICTILIS, with the help of many artists and other partners and collaborators, realized the first full-scale Museum of Capitalism exhibition in Oakland, with major curatorial support from the Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award, and additional support from Left Tilt Fund and other foundations and in-kind supporters. We partnered with the nonprofit Jack London Improvement District to find a vacant space to host the project and ensure it was free and accessible to a broad range of people in the Jack London neighborhood near downtown. Over eighty artists created museum exhibits, and the entire exhibition was tightly programmed with events organized with local groups. This first public exhibition became a magnet for educators, organizers, and many community groups, and showed us the museum’s potential as a framework for community building through collaborative projects.
Part of the 2017 exhibition was a library installation containing an assortment of books gathered and curated with librarians Charlie Macquarie and Ruth Copans. The library included a “commodity history” section and a special collection devoted to the museum’s ongoing collection of “capitalisms” with accompanying illustrations by artist Valeria Mogilevich. The library hosted dozens of meetings, workshops, and events organized with local groups whose work found resonance in the museum’s historical framing of capitalism and its intersections with topics like race, gender, class, and environment.
A book was published by Inventory Press to accompany the museum’s opening exhibition, containing a range of speculations and reflections on the concept by FICTILIS as well as J.K. Gibson Graham, Lucy Lippard, T.J. Demos, Lester K. Spence, Chantal Mouffe, Jennifer González, Chiara Bottici, McKenzie Wark, Stephen Squibb, Ingrid Burrington, Steven Cottingham, Heather Davis, Kevin Killian, Ian Alan Paul, Calum Storrie, Susannah Sayler & Edward Morris, Sasha Lilley, Sarrita Hunn, James McAnally, and an afterword by Kim Stanley Robinson.
We use the museum as a framework for many different projects, a sort of scaffolding upon which a variety of practices can build and grow. It is also an experiment in building an institution without a physical building. Prior to the opening exhibition, we organized an Artifact Donation Event in St. Louis in January 2016. Patterned after an event held in Warsaw in 2006 for the never-built “SocLand” museum of communism, the week-long event invited community members to contribute artifacts of capitalism for an ongoing display and archival process. Since then, we have organized several other artifact drives and workshops, and the project is ongoing.
Also in 2016, we organized a “Museums of Capitalism Global Summit” in Berlin with two similar contemporaneous museum projects, the Museum des Kapitalismus (Berlin) and the Musee du Capitalisme (Brussels). A daylong summit, with presentations, lively discussion, sharing, and camaraderie between organizers of the three projects, was followed by a public panel discussion at Vierte Velt. Organizers remain in contact and solidarity with each other, encouraged by their evincing of a shared zeitgeist and hopeful that global collaborations will be possible in the future.
In late 2015, we organized an architecture competition, which served to introduce the museum concept to a global audience via the question: “What should the Museum of Capitalism look like?” The design brief encouraged proposals that addressed questions beyond the museum’s visual appearance, including:
How will it be built, where will it be located, and how will it interface with its surroundings? How might visitors be drawn to experience capitalism, to think it and to feel it, through interaction with museum spaces?…How might museum spaces reference the role of museums in projects of colonialism, modernization, and industrialization, the social and ecological impacts of the museum’s traditional function in preservation of cultural materials, or the role of museums as ritual spaces for the performance and production of citizenship, identity, and other subjectivities? Entrants are encouraged, though not required, to reflect upon these questions. Who inhabits museum spaces, and why? Who or what is on display, and how does it come to be there? What were the origins and implications of its ordering and classification, its constructed narratives and experiences, its participation and interactivity? And how do the answers to these questions change in a museum that memorializes the era of capitalism?
The online call for the Museum’s Architecture Competition went viral, generating tens of thousands of pageviews, conversation on social media, and several hundred competition entrants from all across the globe. The winners were selected by a panel of judges that included Chip Lord, C. Greig Crysler, and Jennifer Dunlop Fletcher (pictured below, at the judging event). We plan on eventually publishing and/or exhibiting the results in some form in the future.
Though we have no plans for a physical museum building, the Museum of Capitalism project is ongoing. We will continue to partner with other institutions and develop programming in the most effective and responsible ways we can, advancing the museum’s mission of educating this generation and future generations about the ideology, history, and legacy of capitalism.
Museum of Capitalism
- Date: 2015-present
- Location: Oakland, CA / St. Louis, MO / Dublin, Ireland / Berlin, Germany / more TBD
- With: Enar de Dios Rodriguez, Rose Linke, Studio Bang-gu, Bebe Basile, Jason Jay Stevens, Dennis Palazollo, Francois Hughes, Packard Jennings, Bahaar Tadjbakhsh, Kelly Skye
- Supporters: Emily Hall Tremaine Foundation, Left Tilt Fund, Jack London Improvement District, Kenneth Rainin Foundation, Clorox Foundation, Zellerbach Family Foundation
- Featured artists: Alexander Klose, Amy Malbeuf, Art for a Democratic Society, Ben Bigelow, Blake Fall-Conroy, Bureau d'Études, Caitlin Berrigan, Carrie Hott, Center for Genomic Gastronomy, Center for Tactical Magic, Chip Lord, Christy Chow, Claire Pentecost, Curtis Talwst Santiago, Dennis Palazzolo, Dread Scott, Evan Desmond Yee, Finger Pointing Worker/Kota Takeuchi, Fran Ilich, Futurefarmers, Gabby Miller, Helen Mayer Harrison and Newton Harrison, Igor Vamos, Jasper Waters, Jennifer Dalton, Jenny Odell, Jesse Sugarmann, Jordan Bennett, Kambui Olujimi, Kate Haug, Kelly Jazvac, Marisa Jahn, Mark Curran, Michael Mandiberg, Michelle de la Vega, Oliver Ressler, Packard Jennings, Patricia Reed, Rimini Protokoll, Sadie Barnette, Sayler / Morris, Sharon Daniel, Steven Cottingham, Superflex, Tara Shi, Taraneh Hemami, Temporary Services , Tiare Ribeaux and Donald Hanson, Tim Portlock, and Valeria Mogilevich. Plus a special exhibition "American Domain," curated by Erin Elder, featuring the following artists: Bruce Nauman, Chip Thomas, Chris Ballantyne, Chris Collins , Christine Howard Sandoval, Erika Osborne, Jesse Vogler, Terri Warpinski, Tom Miller, Winter Count (Cannupa Hanska Luger, Nicholas Galanin, Merritt Johnson, Dylan McLaughlin, Ginger Dunnill).
Museum of Capitalism is a series of projects using the form of a museum that treats capitalism as a historical phenomenon. This speculative institution views the present and recent past from the implied perspective of a future society in which our economic and political system is memorialized in a manner similar to (the Museums of) Communism, Apartheid, etc. The museum’s historical framing offers audiences and participants a novel way to think through contemporary social and ecological issues, while addressing the crisis in political imagination that makes it easier for many Americans to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism. Anticipating capitalism’s eventual end, the Museum makes various struggles legible as common struggles against capitalism, while joining together people who are working on social change right now—artists, activists, educators, and others—and giving their work a dynamic platform. It invites audiences to inhabit an indeterminate, imaginary future in order to better recognize the historical specificity, idiosyncrasy, and contingency of the present.