Greed, exploited resources and widening economic disparities have lead an increasing number of people to question the very principles of capitalism. In addition to articulating these thoughts in words, some have tried a more creative approach to express their feelings about a system where money is worshipped. Here are five great artworks contributing to the conversation:
1. Southern-California painter Alex Schaefer takes his talents to the streets, where he paints neighborhood bank buildings. He starts by creating a realistic rendering of the bank, then finishes the artwork by having the building engulfed in flames.
As Schaefer paints, police have intervened on at least two occasions, afraid his work might be a threat of actual damage to the buildings. However, for Schaefer, the burning banks are just artistic expression and part of an exhibit entitled “Disaster Capitalism.”
2. Italian street artist Blu pulled no punches when he was invited to paint a large mural on the outer-wall of a MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) building in Los Angeles. Targeting the military industrial complex and the elite who profit from wars, he created a series of coffins draped in dollar bills.
The mural was only on display for a short time, however. MOCA claimed it was inappropriate to have an anti-war mural so close to a Veterans’ Affairs Hospital and a monument honoring Japanese American soldiers and had the mural painted over. Still, the fact that a symbol of capitalism driving the war machine needed to be censored demonstrates how deep the problem is.
3. Artist Sebastian Errazuriz took a more guerrilla approach to art when he quietly altered street lines with white paint to turn them into dollar signs. The project, which he calls “Wall Street Nation” is meant to show capitalism creeping into every facet of our lives.
“The goal is to express the fear and impotence that people are currently experiencing while seeing the growing greed that is transforming the way we live,” Errazuriz said. He encourages others to edit street lines in their own communities to get the conversation flowing outside of New York City as well.
4. Renowned but mysterious graffiti artist Banksy has made a name for himself by putting up renegade art that attacks not only capitalism, but our political world at large. This 2004 image combines the iconic photo of a Vietnamese girl fleeing after being burned by a napalm attack with two commercially iconic figures: Mickey Mouse and Ronald McDonald.
The juxtaposition highlights the consumerist culture designed to distract us from the atrocities going on around us. The troubling satire asks whether these cherished characters are actually helping to create a better world or contributing to the problems at hand.
5. “Capitalism Works for Me!” is a traveling exhibit that recently took up residence in Times Square. The piece uses capitalism’s own flashy conventions to question the system rather than outright condemn it.
“I wanted to get people thinking about something better than the system we have,” said the artist Steve Lambert. “But if you bring it up in a one-on-one conversation, people usually just run.” The piece invites passersby to cast a vote of true or false to the title’s claim and keeps score so others can gauge how well capitalism is working for their neighbors.