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Exhibition Review: The ABC of Capitalism

‘We live in a capitalist world. Capitalism defines our society, economy, politics and culture. However, it’s not a school subject in the UK or any other capitalist country.’ So runs the publicity for an exhibition ‘The ABC of Capitalism’ by Riiko Sakkinen, currently on display at Bury Art Museum, which is also described as containing ‘the School of Capitalism for kids’. This sounds potentially intriguing, but it all turns out to be a bit of a let-down.

The exhibition has a lengthy list of varieties of capitalism, including state capitalism, but no explanation of any of these. A map of the world states that there are 204 capitalist countries, and only two that are not capitalist, Cuba and North Korea, but there is no account of why this is the case or what system these countries have instead. ‘Freedom is a Free Economy’, announces a slogan, but this is meaningless as there is no explanation of what counts as a free economy. There is a display of supposed Heroes of Capitalism, from Adam Smith and Henry Ford to Thatcher, Reagan and Deng Xiaoping. A single out-of-context quote from each of these is used, but nothing is said to show why they are considered ‘heroes’. Pinochet is one of them, but it is not stated that he was a dictator who had his opponents tortured and executed. There is no reference anywhere to two of the defining characteristics of capitalism, wages and profit. But in a sense there would be no point in having a school curriculum along such lines, as the social and economic status quo is already implicit in education and the media, anyway.

Does a look at Sakkinen’s website (www.riikosakkinen.com) help at all? Sort of, as it says a bit about his Turbo Realism movement. But consider these quotes from it: Turbo Realism ‘is against the globalized capitalism and all other capitalisms’ but it ‘will be against the post-capitalism, and we will be the first artists interned in its camps’ and its goal ‘is to support the revolutionary forces in the society to establish a global socialist dictatorship’. Probably he is being deliberately provocative, disagreeing with himself, advocating one position and its opposite too.

The exhibition states that many people do not understand capitalism, but it is not clear that Sakkinen understands it either, and little that is said here will help. It may be claimed that art need not spell everything out, but it surely needs to say something more than is done in this ABC.      

PB