ON THE RECEPTION OF
POP ART IN BELGIUM
1-2 DECEMBER 2011
ROYAL MUSEUMS OF
FINE ARTS OF BELGIUM
"Living with Pop - A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism":
International Pop Art and its German Political Implications and Interpretations
- Monika M. Rieger
In 1963, at a rather early point in time, Gerhard Richter, Konrad Lueg (Fischer) Sigmar Polke and Manfred Kuttner, still being students at the Düsseldorf Academy of Arts, introduced the term Capitalist Realism into the vibrant artistic landscape around Düsseldorf and Cologne - then an important centre of the German art scene- by using it in connection with titles for various exhibitions and performances.
For an exhibition of paintings in May 1963 they associated the term with synonyms such as Pop Art, Junk Culture, Imperialist Realism, New Figuration, Naturalism, and German Pop.
In October 1963, Richter and Lueg organized a performance entitled Living with Pop - A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism and involving the artists performing as living sculptures, television footage, a variety of props and homemade effigies of John F. Kennedy and the Düsseldorf gallery owner Alfred Schmela. Also featured was an installation in a cupboard by Beuys, alluding to the important influence Fluxus had on the Düsseldorf art scene.
In between, Richter and Polke travelled to Paris full of self-confidence to present themselves to Ileana Sonnabend as the German Pop artists.
Clearly inspired by American Pop Art and similarly opposed to established art movements, the term Capitalist Realism was at the same time intended to allude to Socialist Realism, a term that would certainly meet special attention and instantly instigate political debate in the historical context of the time. Furthermore, this strategy - whose final objective was to establish the young students as 'proper' artists - appears to be remarkably in parallel to Andy Warhol's early consideration of terming his art commonism. In Living with Pop, this parallelism of art and politics is illustrated in the effigies of Alfred Schmela and John F. Kennedy.
It is remarkable that the German artists, with their background of Informel painting and their surroundings of Fluxus, especially pick on the political implications of international Pop Art, interpreting it as essentially connected with capitalism. This is further enhanced by the fact that this interpretation is somewhat contrary to the political aspects that are attributed to 'original' Pop Art in the United States.
Using Living with Pop - A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism as core example and focusing on Gerhard Richter as the most prominent exponent in Germany, the proposed paper aims to explore these implications, interpretations and interrelations in order to conceptualize Pop Art as an attitude, going beyond a specific artistic style. Thus, for the case of Germany, the international and the local character of Pop Art will emerge in parallel but at the same time opposite processes of imitation and inversion.
Monika M. Rieger M.A. studied art history, philosophy and German literature in Karlsruhe, and Cambridge (UK); she is a PhD candidate at Humboldt University, Berlin, preparing a dissertation on Andy Warhol's Time Capsules, Gerhard Richter's Atlas and collecting as alternative practice of self-portraiture.