Capitalist realism

Capitalist realism

Capitalist realism refers to either a German art movement of the early 1960s, or the characteristic style of advertising in the 1980s.


The phrase's earliest appearance was as the title of the 1963 art exhibition in Düsseldorf, Demonstration for Capitalist Realism, featuring the work of Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Wolf Vostell and Konrad Lueg. Lueg went on to represent his friend's work as the gallerist Konrad Fischer (in the exhibition he had used his mother's maiden name).

Capitalist realism can also be used to describe commodity-based art in general, from Pop Art in the 1950s and 1960s to the commodity art of the 1980s and 1990s.


The initial coining of the term was formed in the context of German Pop Art in the early 1960s. The second instance of the term cropped up in the mid 1980s when Michael Schudson used it to describe mainstream practices in advertising. 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. In his account, the realism of advertising promotes a way of life based on private consumption, rather than social, public achievement.



  • Michael Schudson. Advertising, The Uneasy Persuasion: Its Dubious Impact on American Society, (New York : Basic Books) 1984. ISBN 0465000800
  • John Caldwell, Sigmar Polke, (San Francisco:San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) 1990, p 9

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