capitalist realism

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Possibly coined in 1963 when it was used as the title of an art exhibition/performance in Düsseldorf[1][2], alluding to socialist realism. The term was later reused in a political philosophy context by cultural theorist Mark Fisher.[3]


capitalist realism (uncountable)

  1. (art) A German pop art movement (1963-1966).
    • 2008, Claudia Mesch, Modern Art at the Berlin Wall: Demarcating Culture in the Cold War Germanys, Tauris Academic Studies
      Back in West Berlin, Rene Block thought the term 'Capitalist Realism' resonated strongly with other kinds of 'new realism' taking place there, in the shadow of the GDR. In 1971 he used the term again for a show of prints, but disappointedly []
    • 2013, John Sandford, Encyclopedia of Contemporary German Culture, Routledge (→ISBN)
      Richter's concept of 'capitalist realism' alluded to the doctrines of socialist realism east of the border. These approaches were taken further in the actions of Happening and Fluxus artists in the wake of the student movement.
    • 2014 September 8, Oliver Wainwright; Jonathan Jones; Adrian Searle, “Art, design and architecture: what to see in autumn 2014”, in The Guardian[3]:
      Following two earlier major Sigmar Polke shows, at Tate Liverpool in 1996 and Tate Modern in 2005, this extensive retrospective aims to show the German painter, film-maker and sculptor in full. A founder, with Gerhard Richter, of capitalist realism (a rejoinder to British and American pop art) in the 1960s), Polke went on to make an enormous variety of hallucinatory, poisonous, gorgeous and unsettling works that still reverberate with a strange, dark humour.
  2. (art) A satirical reference to pop. (Can we add an example for this sense?)
  3. (politics, philosophy) An ideological framework for viewing capitalism and its effects on politics, economics, and public thought.
    • 2011, Dan Hancox, Summer of Unrest: Kettled Youth: The Battle Against the Neoliberal Endgame, Random House (→ISBN)
      It captures the psychic transformation this generation has gone through: smashing through the glass at Millbank, struggling through the hard lines of the kettle, and finally piercing capitalist realism's façade: an aperture through which now flows []
    • 2013, David Bzdak, Joanna Crosby, Seth Vannatta, The Wire and Philosophy: This America, Man, Open Court (→ISBN), page 167:
      With regard to The Wire, this definition has largely revolved around the capitalist realism of society, or the reality that money rules and determines everything.
    • 2013, Bruce Bennett, The Cinema of Michael Winterbottom: Borders, Intimacy, Terror, Columbia University Press (→ISBN), page 164:
      In the face of the 'grand narrative' of capitalist realism, the film counters with a demystifying alternative story, erecting a protective shield to insulate the informed viewer from the shock effect of the neo-liberal narrative.
    • 2017 July 19, Matthew Flisfeder, “Future Imperfect; or, "It's Easier to Imagine the End of the World..."”, in Red Wedge Magazine[4]:
      With each new stage in postmodernity, from its post-Keynesian beginning to the “end of history” period, and even today in capitalist realism, the film has received new treatment, marking the historical moment in some way. It is postmodern simulation and simulacra of itself.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Gerhard Richter; Sigmar Polke; Konrad Fischer-Lueg (1963), “Leben mit Pop. Eine Demonstration für den Kapitalistischen Realismus [Living with Pop. A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism]”, in Media Art Net[1]
  2. ^ “1961–1964: The Düsseldorf Academy Years”, in Gerhard Richter[2], (Please provide a date or year):
    And in October, Richter and Lueg organised an exhibition and event at a furniture store in the city. Entitled Living with Pop: A Demonstration for Capitalist Realism, the initiative involved an exhibition of the artist's paintings and a happening in which they performed as "living sculptures" in a mock living room with a variety of props, including an effigy of (the then still living) John F. Kennedy.
  3. ^ Mark Fisher (2009), chapter 3, in Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative?, Zero Books, →ISBN:
    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.

Further reading[edit]