Critics’ Picks

View of “Living with Pop,” 2014.

New York

“Living with Pop. A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism”

Artists Space Exhibitions
38 Greene Street 3rd Floor
June 8 - August 17

Artists Space
55 Walker Street
June 8 - August 17

“Living with Pop. A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism” features barely any “original” works of art. As its title suggests, the exhibition—an investigation of the postwar West German phenomenon of Capitalist Realism—consists of reproductions, prints, and multiples of archival ephemera: invitation cards, flyers, press releases, brochures, guest books, letters, telegrams, and newspaper articles, neatly assembled in large, gray display cabinets. Even the forty-some-odd paintings included—most of which were modeled after advertisements and publicity photographs of consumer products—are not the virtuoso oil-on-canvas originals but true-to-scale photographic facsimiles.

In many ways, the exhibition captures the spirit of Capitalist Realism, the name of which was introduced in 1963 by the Düsseldorf foursome (Manfred Kuttner, Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, and Gerhard Richter) to parodically counter the mandated Socialist Realism of East Germany and to respond with a sense of skepticism to the Wirtschaftswunder (“economic miracle”) of the West. Despite its text-heavy character, the show is visually dynamic and easy to navigate, with more than a decade’s worth of information (1957–71) arranged chronologically in sections that are bracketed by mural-sized black-and-white photographs of such key events as Richter and Lueg’s infamous 1963 Happening in the furniture store Möbelhaus Berges, or the group’s impromptu 1964 exhibition in the snow-speckled garden of Galerie Parnass.

The invitation to American Conceptual artist (and cinephile) Christopher Williams to frame the exhibition with a selection of films could not have been more discerning—after all, Williams is not only a professor at the Kunstakademie Düsseldorf, where the artists whom the show addresses met, but, more to the point, his photographic practice both revisits the Cold War and critically comments on the conventions of advertising. Presented on adjacent flat screens, the works he has chosen range from such art-house classics as Guy Debord’s Society of the Spectacle (1973) to popular flicks such as Justin Lin’s The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006), creating a continuously changing kaleidoscope of images that brilliantly speak to our late-capitalist, media-prescribed condition.