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SPECULATIVE REALISM: AN INTERVIEW WITH RENÉ BLOCK

THE NAME SAID IT ALL: Capitalist Realism was a moniker, a label. It limned the very stuff of capital, which is to say its commodity forms as well as its techniques—its words, images, and experiences. From a strange display of wares in a Berlin butcher shop in 1963 to the famous “Living with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism” exhibition at a furniture store later that fall, Kapitalistischer Realismus took on the false promise of West Germany’s postwar “economic miracle,” both its lure and its lack.
 
But the artists most closely associated with the would-be movement—Konrad Lueg, Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, and Manfred Kuttner—would soon abandon its imprimatur. In the end, as scholars Rachel Jans, Susanne Rennert, and others have shown, it was the dealer and curator RENÉ BLOCK who pushed the implications of the term furthest and longest. In a number of signal exhibitions at his gallery from 1964 to 1971, Block launched Capitalist Realism as a global marketing strategy, a mode of publicity with which to stamp streams of products and information. He pioneered the serial production of prints and multiples as new channels of circulation, revealing the commodity to be not only a discrete object but part of a flow, a network. He coaxed forth an art whose realism was not a simple mimesis, a semblance, but a kind of dissemblance—one that troubled any simple understanding of culture and economy. Here, Block grants Artforum a rare interview, looking back at that singular, and prescient, moment.

Berges furniture store, site of “Leben mit Pop. Eine Demonstration für Kapitalistischen Realismus” (Living with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism), Flingerstraße 11, Düsseldorf, October 1963. Photo: Reiner Ruthenbeck.

MICHELLE KUO: How did you understand your first shows of Capitalist Realism? Did you aim to change the format of the traditional exhibition, perhaps in relation to new strategies of performance and display, such as the Happening or the event score? Were you interested in pursuing branding and marketing in the same way that the artists were engaging advertising imagery?

RENÉ BLOCK: The intention of the first show I mounted using the term Kapitalistischer Realismus, or Capitalist Realism [in 1964], was one of cultural policy. Keep in mind the political and geographic situation of West Berlin at that time, which was surrounded by the art of socialist realism. The term reflected and confronted this division between East and West, the promises of material abundance on the one hand and agitprop on the other. (The fact that Gerhard Richter studied socialist realism at the academy in

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