Graphics of Capitalist Realism

18. 05. 2015 - 09. 08. 2015
KP Brehmer: That Feeling Between the Fingertips …, 1967, 1967 (GdKR)

The term “capitalist realism” came out of two artistic actions that took place in 1963 in Düsseldorf. In the early summer of that year, Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke and Gerhard Richter – some of them still students at the academy of fine arts at the time – rented a shop space in which they exhibited their paintings under the slogan “Living with Pop”. In October of the same year, “Demonstration of Capitalist Realism” followed in another furniture shop. This was organized by Lueg and Richter, and is considered to be the birth of this term. The action involved the artists placing the furniture pieces on white plinths in one department of the shop, while they sat silently in two armchairs, hence becoming exhibits themselves. The term “capitalist realism” should be distinguished from the Anglo-American pop art, which was just conquering the western art world at the time, and from so-called socialist realism, which is why I found it suitable for the gallery in (West) Berlin that I had started in 1964. Besides the artists from Düsseldorf, I also invited KP Brehmer and KH Hödick from Berlin to participate, as well as Wolf Vostell, whose works all dealt with everyday phenomena. These artists certainly did not form a group; they were essentially friends and were building their careers independently. Nevertheless, in 1967 I managed to get all the artists to take part in an edition for which each one was supposed to make one print that would be published under the title Graphic of Capitalist Realism. Historically looking, this portfolio represented an end, with an exclamation mark (!), of the very important “non-” movement of young German art, often cited in art history and now 50 years old.

The Weekend edition from 1972 is based on a different idea – that of an extra suitcase together with the ordinary luggage containing various artworks, which can be swapped for the “paintings” in hotel rooms or rented holiday homes. I invited seven artists to create up to five prints for this project. Each one addressed the topic in their own unique way: in as late as 1972, for example, television occupied a significant part of free time to which Vostell and Brehmer dedicated their attention (with the table to determine the nuances of brown in a television programme). Peter Hutchinson, with his documentation of a chess game, and Hödicke with his paintings with hidden mistakes, interpreted the weekend in a more entertaining way, while it seems that Polke took advantage of the set theme for private photos. Köpcke conceived the architectonic utopia of a summer house made out of glass, whereas firmly attached to the lid of the suitcase was a readymade multiple by Joseph Beuys – Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason as Sunday reading, with Beuys’ printed statement in red lettering “I do not know what a weekend is” and a small container of Maggi soup seasoning, without which Sunday soup could not be imagined. In 1972, I planned an edition of 95 suitcases, from which only about 50 were completed.

René Block, Berlin, February 2015

Artists: Joseph Beuys, René Block, KP Brehmer, KH Hödicke, Peter Hutckinson, Arthur Köpcke, Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter and Wolf Vostell
Curator: René Block