Michael Mandiberg’s current project, FDIC Insured, has been in the works since 2009. Every weekend since then, for six and a half years, he’s tracked US banks that have failed each week. He has kept his own records of their details and their logos.
Mandiberg has always been interested in logos as art. The corporate logo arose after World War II as companies became more important than the people who founded them. Bank logos, in particular, have always been carefully crafted to portray permanence and trust.
But the recession, which was at its height when Mandiberg began this process, proved just how transitory those institutions and their iconography could be.
“I started thinking about the way in which these logos disappear,” Mandiberg says. He had to be quick about finding them. In 2009 and 2010, the Federal Deposit Insurance Commission—the government agency established at the end of the Great Depression to protect customers from a bank’s failure—was taking custody of an average of a bank a day.
These banks would be reopened under a new name and be given a new logo over the span of a weekend. This action erased the history of failure, according to Mandiberg.
To preserve that history, the artist recorded the logos of 523 failed banking institutions. For each one, he’s burnt that logo into the cover of a book about investment, business management, or financial planning.
On September 9th, the 8th anniversary of the Lehman Brothers’ bankruptcy declaration, he’ll present all 523 books on stark white shelves in an empty corporate suite, formerly the site of Time Equities, a failed investment broker.
“They look like tombstones—the whole thing feels like a memorial,” he says. And they do represent loss. Thousands of jobs at banks both large and small disappeared with those logos, and the financial damage may never be tallied.