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Capitalist realism

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Title: Capitalist realism  
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Subject: Mark Fisher (theorist), Art criticism, Realism (art movement), Recuperation (politics), Capitalism
Collection: Art Criticism, Capitalism, Realism (Art Movement)
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Capitalist realism

Capitalist realism
Years active from Pop Art in the 1950s and 1960s to the commodity art of the 1980s and 1990s
Country Germany
Major figures Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Wolf Vostell, and Konrad Lueg

The term "Capitalist realism" has several meanings or uses. It has been used, particularly in Germany, to describe commodity-based art, from Pop Art in the 1950s and 1960s to the commodity art of the 1980s and 1990s.[1] Alternatively, it has been used to describe the ideological-aesthetic aspect of contemporary corporate capitalism in the West. When used in this way, it is a play on the term "Socialist realism".


  • History 1
  • Sigmar Polke 2
  • Michael Schudson 3
  • Mark Fisher 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6


Although attested earlier,[2] the phrase Capitalist realism was first prominently used in the title of the 1963 art exhibition in Düsseldorf, Demonstration for Capitalist Realism, which featured the work of Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Wolf Vostell, and Konrad Lueg.[3] The exhibition's participants focused upon depictions of Germany's growing consumer culture and media-saturated society with strategies, in part, influenced by those of their American Pop[4] counterparts. They were inspired primarily by the iconography depicted in newspapers and magazines.

Sigmar Polke

Capitalist realism is a German art movement co-founded in 1963 by artist Sigmar Polke.[5] Polke embraced the advertising and publicity commonly found in the popular press in renderings of everyday consumer items. Often ironic and with critical overtones of society and politics the Capitalist Realism movement is considered more explicitly political than conventional Pop Art.[6]

Michael Schudson

In the mid-1980s, Michael Schudson used the term "capitalist realism" to describe mainstream practices in advertising.[7] Chapter seven of Schudson's Advertising: The Uneasy Persuasion compares the messages and appeals of advertising to those found in the Socialist Realism of the Soviet Union.[8] In his account, the realism of advertising promotes a way of life based on private consumption, rather than social, public achievement.[9]

Mark Fisher

The term next appeared in 2009 with the publication of Mark Fisher's book Capitalist Realism. Is There No Alternative?[10] Fisher argues that the term "capitalist realism" best describes the current global political situation. His argument is a response to, and critique of, neo-liberalism and new forms of government which apply the logic of capitalism and the market to all aspects of governance.

As a philosophical concept, capitalist realism is indebted to an Althusserian conception of ideology. Fisher proposes that within a capitalist framework there is no space to conceive of alternative forms of social structures. He proposes that the 2008 financial crisis compounded this position; rather than seeking alternatives to the existing model we look for modifications within the system. The crash confirmed within the populace the necessity of capitalism rather than shake it loose from its foundations.

Capitalist realism as I understand it cannot be confined to art or to the quasi-propagandistic way in which advertising functions. It is more like a pervasive atmosphere, conditioning not only the production of culture but also the regulation of work and education, and acting as a kind of invisible barrier constraining thought and action.[11]

In the wake of Fischer's work, the term has been picked up by other literary critics.[12]

See also



  1. ^ Gibbons, p.53
  2. ^ E.g. by Abraham Polonsky of Edward Dmytryk's The Caine Mutiny: William Pechter and Abraham Polonsky, 'Abraham Polonsky and "Force of Evil"', Film Quarterly, 15.3 [Special Issue on Hollywood] (Spring, 1962), 47-54 (p. 53);
  3. ^ Honour, Hugh. A World History of Art, Laurence King Publishing, p847. ISBN 1-85669-451-8
  4. ^ Pollack, Maika (23 July 2014). "Living With Pop: A Reproduction of Capitalist Realism' at Artists Space". The New York Observer. Retrieved 20 November 2014. It was a reaction to Pop from a postwar Germany divided between East and West. 
  5. ^ Schudel, Matt (13 June 2010). "German artist Sigmar Polke, creator of 'Higher Beings Command,' dies at 69". The Washington Post. Retrieved 17 November 2014. In the 1960s, Mr. Polke was at the vanguard of a German artistic movement called capitalist realism, along with fellow painter Gerhard Richter -- who later expressed reservations about his colleague's work, saying "he refuses to accept any borders, any limits." 
  6. ^ Crow, Thomas. The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the age of Dissent ISBN 1856694267
  7. ^ Gibbons, p.55
  8. ^ Michael Schudson, 'Advertising as Capitalist Realism', in Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society (New York: Basic Books, 1984), pp. 209-33 (repr. in Advertising & Society Review, vol. 1, issue 1 (2000).
  9. ^ Richards, Harry; MacRury, Isin; Botterill, Jackie. The Dynamics of Advertising, Routledge, 2000, p99. ISBN 90-5823-085-6
  10. ^ Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no Alternative? (Winchester, UK; Washington [D.C.]: Zero, 2009); ISBN 978-1-84694-317-1 (pbk.); 1846943175 (pbk.).
  11. ^ Mark Fisher, Capitalist Realism: Is there no Alternative? (Winchester, UK; Washington [D.C.]: Zero, 2009).
  12. ^ Prominently Mark Fisher and Jeremy Gilbert, 'Capitalist Realism and Neoliberal Hegemony: A Dialogue', New Formations, 80--81 (2013), 89--101 DOI:10.3898/NEWF.80/81.05.2013; Reading Capitalist Realism, ed. by Alison Shonkwiler and Leigh Claire La Berge (Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2014).


  • Caldwell, John. Sigmar Polke, (San Francisco:San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) 1990, p 9
  • Gibbons, Joan. Art And Advertising. I.B.Tauris, ISBN 1-85043-586-3
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