Anti-capitalist ‘Museum of Capitalism’ opens in Oakland

An unused food hall is being turned in to an anti-capitalist museum in the city of Oakland. It’s only open for a limited time (until August 20) so you’ll need to hurry if you want to catch it.

The Daily Californian reports the museum is broken into three parts. The first section is devoted to “historically detrimental effects of capitalism.” The next section, featuring TV’s with looped commentary from people describing alternate economic systems from “anarchist feminism to caring economics to indigenous Polynesian communism.” The third area invites viewers to look back on capitalism as if from a future time when it no longer exists:

In the third area, the focus shifts to a post-capitalist, almost clinically futuristic space. Peppered with display cases of old capitalist artifacts serving as displays of phallic representations of command and power — such as wands, vibrators and remotes — the space allows for a retrospective view of capitalism, distancing viewers from their daily reality enough for them to properly examine the smaller elements of their lives.

This is the central conceit of the entire effort, i.e. envisioning a future where capitalism actually needs a museum. As Art in America puts it, “the Museum of Capitalism asks us to radically deny—in our imagination—conditions that can be witnessed right outside its doors.” And not only outside its doors but inside them as well. Art in America notes the anti-capitalist museum has a gift shop, though it strives to make it part of the anti-capitalist experience:

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.

Semi-serious question: If someone were to decide to expropriate one of the exhibits in the Museum or simply take a tote bag from the gift shop, would the creators of this space pat you on the back or call the police? To be clear: I’m not recommending anyone steal anything. Stealing is wrong and illegal. I just wonder where the creators of the museum draw the line between fantasy anti-capitalism and “Hey, that’s my stuff!”

One thing missing from the exhibit according to Art in America: A history explaining how the world got from the capitalist reality we’re familiar with to the imaginary future of the museum. Perhaps that step is missing because previous efforts to eradicate capitalism, in Russia and China, for instance, have come with a loss of human rights and a significant body count. Now there’s a subject fit for a museum.

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