Living with Pop: Capitalist Realism in Düsseldorf
In 1963, Gerhard Richter and Konrad Lueg presented their performance “Leben mit Pop” (Living with Pop) in a Düsseldorf furniture store. In honour of the fiftieth anniversary of that performance, an exhibition at the Kunsthalle Düsseldorf now looks back at an artistic movement in 1960s West Germany that marked a definitive departure from abstraction.
Two men wearing suits are seated on living-room furniture from the store’s inventory, placed on pedestals as works of art. The daily news is running on a television in the background.
It is the 11th of October 1963. The two men are Konrad Lueg and Gerhard Richter. They are not sitting at home, however, but in the Berges furniture store in Düsseldorf. The performance is called Living with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism.
Beer and Trouble
Living with Pop transformed the furniture store into an art space. According to a pre-specified dramaturgy, the visitors first had to take a seat in a waiting room before entering the abovementioned living room situation, where they were then able to walk around the furniture to view four works by the artists and a felt suit by Joseph Beuys. Then there was beer – and trouble with the shop’s proprietor because the advertising he had been hoping for had failed to materialize.
“We presented ourselves not as artists, but as sculptures,” said Richter later, talking about the performance. “I wanted to display myself as an occupant, as a member of the petite bourgeoisie, with this pathetic blanket on the sofa.”
Capitalist Realism was deliberately conceived as the West German equivalent to Socialist Realism in East Germany. At the same time, it was not intended as a political or socially critical movement. Putting their art at the service of a fixed ideology would not have been an option for Polke, Richter and Kuttner, who had all come to West Germany from the GDR.
Necessity and Virtue
In its day, Capitalist Realism was not meant solely as an ironic label, but also as a catchword for the deliberate promotion of the artists’ own careers: a plan which certainly bore fruit, particularly in the case of Richter and Polke, who are currently the most expensive contemporary German painters. It would not have been financially possible to use the originals for the current Düsseldorf exhibition due to the prohibitive costs of insuring them.
With no intention of causing affront, a virtue is being made of necessity with an exhibition of reproductions which, given the fact that the artists themselves often processed and reproduced existing pictorial material for their art, for example from magazines, actually makes sense.
Living with Pop: A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism
Fluxus as a Primum Mobile
In roughly chronological order, the exhibition retraces the evolution of Capitalist Realism in individual stages from its founding to the group’s subsequent performances, and finally to the development of specific iconographies with which the artists’ names are still associated today. Living with Pop also spans the decades to the present: the American concept artist and academy professor Christopher Williams designed an exhibition banner to be hung on the outside of the building, and selected several films that can be viewed on monitors scattered around the exhibition.
Living with Pop also shows documents such as correspondence with the authorities, sketches and invitations, which can be regarded as interesting sources for research into the history of artistic self-organization and the temporary appropriation of spaces: i.e. strategies that are the order of the day in the realistic capitalism of today's art world.
21 July to 29 September 2013
is a free-lance author and teaches visual communications at the Universität der Künste in Berlin.
Translation: Judith Rosenthal
Copyright: Goethe-Institut e. V., Internet-Redaktion
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