The People’s History Museum’s latest exhibition took us by surprise – this in pictures review explains why.
On the face of it, finance isn’t the most thrilling focus for an exhibition. How do you represent complex economics in a visually interesting way? Partly by acknowledging how daunting the subject is, as it turns out; Simon Roberts’ Credit Crunch Lexicon, a new commission for Show Me the Money: The Image of Finance, collates the most common financial terms used since the recession hit in 2008 into a continuous, capitalised, floor to ceiling block of words that’s almost impossible to read. Cornford & Cross’ Black Narcissus, meanwhile, makes a decade of FTSE peaks and troughs into a literal mountain range. But what Show Me the Money does most successfully is to showcase art as a powerful tool for understanding.
“Daddy, why’s that man injecting himself with money?”
The work on show does represent the ins and outs of finance in an engaging way, but you’d be mistaken if you thought it was a neutral depiction. Instead, Show Me the Money offers a range of reactions. So, from Peter Fluck’s caricatures satirising inflation (if you’ve got kids, maybe steer them away from this bit – or be prepared to answer questions like “Daddy, why’s that man injecting himself with money?”) to Immo Klink’s huge print The Real Fight Club, in which a banker at a regular social gathering snarls at the camera (getting pumped before actual fist fights that would take place after dinner), the exhibition demonstrates both economic realities, and a take on the impact they have.
Stretching right back to prints by William Hogarth examining the financial crisis of 1720, through to recent works, there’s a consistent suspicion around how finance is handled, and who holds the power. Art, then, becomes a tool through which inequality, corruption and crisis can be grasped. “Our society is dominated by the idea and the reality of the financial markets,” says Dr Chris Burgess, curator at the PHM. “These artistic responses to that reality get to the heart of a system that appears distant but has a significant impact on all our lives.”
With economic policies driving the current government’s agenda, grappling with this reality feels ever more urgent. And if that isn’t incentive enough, how about this: on one wall of the exhibition is an unassuming cash point. There’s no slot to insert your card – instead, it puts out a £5 note at a random point throughout the day. Art at its most altruistic, no?