politics

London: The Museum of Neoliberalism

I know I’ve had a lot of angry posts recently, but I hope this will be more of a fun post on an angry topic, if that makes sense. The Museum of Neoliberalism has been around since November, but I only heard about it in mid-January when Time Out posted about it on their Instagram. Because it is a pop-up and it wasn’t clear how much longer it would be around, I immediately planned a visit for that Saturday. It is recommended that you book a time slot on the museum’s website to ensure that the museum will be open when you get there (entry and booking are both free, and you only have to book one slot regardless of how many people will be attending), but I reckon if you live locally, you can probably just drop in on a weekend. The museum is in Lewisham, near Lee Railway Station, which I had never heard of before (Lee, not Lewisham), so it was definitely not local to me and turned out to be even more of a palaver to get to than I was counting on because I didn’t realise that there were no South Western Railway services on my line on the day of my planned visit, so I had to get a bus to Putney to even get on a train to Waterloo, and then get another train from Waterloo East, and any journey that involves taking a bus just to get to a train is never a good time (and seriously, what is South Western’s problem? I took a train the week of the closure, but I swear they never announced it. They probably put a sign up late Friday night to announce no trains on Saturday. I know I said I wouldn’t be too angry in this one, but they’re so shit). Still, I only get every other Saturday off work, and I wasn’t going to waste a perfectly good Saturday not doing the thing I had been planning on all week, so I persevered.

 

And my efforts would not go unrewarded, as the museum, though small and located in the middle of an ordinary high street (easy to miss unless you’re paying attention), was instantly eye-catching and fun, presenting us with a display of free Jeremy Corbyn coasters when we walked in (obviously they pre-dated the December election), and was done in a bold graphic style reminiscent of the exhibitions at Banksy’s Dismaland, and for good reason – Darren Cullen and Gavin Grindon, the artists responsible for the Museum of Neoliberalism, also contributed to Dismaland. In fact, we bought one of Cullen’s prints there, so I was already a fan of his style, and was pleased to see more in that vein. His work is cynical and pessimistic yet hilarious at the same time, and being a pessimist myself, I can definitely relate. If you live in London, you may well have already spotted his work appearing on bus stops and other locations (not entirely legally).

It was a museum of neoliberalism, but most definitely not a museum that was pro-neoliberalism, in case the signage hasn’t already tipped you off. In case you’re not sure what neoliberalism entails (I wasn’t entirely clear before visiting this museum; the “liberalism” in the name threw me), its current meaning is basically a form of free market capitalism that takes Adam Smith’s laissez-faire ideas to extremes. In the UK, it is associated with austerity, and is the form of government practised by both the Tories and New Labour, so essentially is the shitty system that has gotten us into the mess we’re in. It means tax cuts for the wealthy, little to no spending on social services, antagonism towards unions, attempted privatisation of the NHS, etc, etc.

 

For such a small museum, it managed to pack in an awful lot of text, and was very informative. Ever the skeptic, even though I essentially agreed with the politics of this museum, its creators clearly have a strong bias, so I did some research on some of the material presented here, and it mostly checked out. If you already bemoan the current state of affairs, this museum will just enrage you even more, but at least it manages to entertain whilst doing so, with the above parody versions of railway games that made me laugh out loud (I’ve been that person sat on the floor next to the toilets), and objects that included a bottle of urine produced by an Amazon worker who didn’t have time to go to the toilet because of their ridiculously high targets, and the ultimate horrific dystopian accessory: the tracking device patented by Amazon that monitors an employee’s work at all times, and allows a manager to yell at them when they’re not working fast enough (although I can’t find confirmation anywhere that Amazon have started using them, just that they exist). I don’t have the space or energy to go into PFIs here (the subject of the above “game”), but they waste an incredible amount of money that should be going to the NHS directly, and reading about them is enough to make my blood boil.

 

Perhaps rather ironically for a museum with such an anti-capitalist bent, there is a shop, which was staffed by Darren Cullen himself on the day we visited, and was genuinely the best museum shop I have ever seen. Mainly filled with Cullen’s art in the form of prints, postcards, stickers, and t-shirts, I wanted everything in here, but settled for two prints, a handful of postcards, and two pin badges (if you’re unable to visit the museum in person but would like to look at Cullen’s art, most of it is available online). Although small, if you’re of a liberal persuasion (or even if you’re not, as long as you’re open minded) or just like art, this is a must-see. I’m glad I made the effort, even on a shitty no-trains day, and I’d go sooner rather than later if you would like to see it as well, because I’m not sure how much longer it will be there. 4/5.