Since there is no such thing as absolute rightness and truth, we always pursue the artificial, leading, human truth. We judge and make a truth that excludes other truths. Art plays a formative part in this manufacture of truth.
Picturing things, taking a view, is what makes us human; art is making sense and giving shape to that sense. It is like the religious search for God.
Pop art is neither an American invention nor an import, yet the terms and names were coined in the US, where they were popularised much faster than in Germany. This kind of art has evolved organically and independently over here, yet at the same time it becomes an analogy to American pop art due to certain psychological, cultural and economical preconditions that are the same in Germany as they are in the US. [...] For the first time we are showing paintings in Germany that relate to those terms, representing pop art, junk culture, imperial or capitalistic realism, new figuration, naturalism, German pop and other comparable terms.
Art is not a substitute religion: it is a religion (in the true sense of the word: 'binding back', 'binding' to the unknowable, transcending reason, transcendent being). But the church is no longer adequate as a means of affording experience of the transcendental, and of making religion real – and so art has been transformed from a means into the sole provider of religion: which means religion itself.
Theory has nothing to do with a work of art. Pictures which are interpretable, and which contain a meaning, are bad pictures. A picture presents itself as the Unmanageable, the Illogical, the Meaningless. It demonstrates the endless multiplicity of aspects; it takes away our certainty, because it deprives a thing of its meaning and its name. It shows us the thing in all the manifold significance and infinite variety that preclude the emergence of any single meaning and view.
Now there are no priests or philosophers left, artists are the most important people in the world.
How do you interpret your role as a painter in our society?
As a role that everyone has. I would like to try to understand what is. We know very little, and I am trying to do it by creating analogies. Almost every work of art is an analogy. When I make a representation of something, this too is an analogy to what exists; I make an effort to get a grip on the thing by depicting it. I prefer to steer clear of anything aesthetic, so as not to set obstacles in my own way and not to have the problem of people saying: 'Ah, yes, that's how he sees the world, that's his interpretation.'
Art is the highest form of hope.
Other people did, however, try to tie a label on you. 'Capitalist Realism' was one catchphrase that stuck. And it was actually coined by you in the first place.
Yes, we were amazed when that happened. It was a real joke to us. Konrad Lueg and I did a Happening, and we used the phrase just for the Happening, to have a catchy name for it; and then it immediately got taken up and brought into use. There's no defence against that – and really it's no bad thing.
Could you tell me a little about your Manifesto of Capitalist Realism?
That was a piece I did in 1963 with Konrad Lueg in a department store, in the furniture department. It was announced in some papers as an exhibition opening, but the people who came didn't know that it was to be a sort of Happening. I don't think it is quite right that it has become so famous anyhow. It was just a lot of fun, and the word itself, Capitalist Realism, hit just right. But it wasn't such a big deal.
I originally came from Dresden, where Socialist Realism prevailed. Konrad Lueg and I came up with it, for the most part ironically, since I now live in capitalism. It was certainly 'realism', but in another form – the capitalist form, as it were. It wasn't meant that seriously. It was more a slogan for that particular Happening at a furniture store.
Art is the pure realization of religious feeling, capacity for faith, longing for God. […] The ability to believe is our outstanding quality, and only art adequately translates it into reality. But when we assuage our need for faith with an ideology we court disaster.
What does the word 'Informel' mean to you today?
As I see it, all of them – Tachists, Action Painters, Informel artists, and the rest – are only part of an Informel movement that covers a lot of other things as well. I think there's an Informel element in Beuys, as well; but it all began with Duchamp and chance, or with Mondrian, or with the Impressionists. The Informel is the opposite of the constructional quality of classicism – the age of kings, or clearly formed hierarchies.
So in this context you still see yourself as an Informel artist?
Yes, in principle. The age of the Informel has hardly begun yet.
In general, American Pop Art concentrated on public imagery and commercial culture. But previously you told me that as German Pop artists Polke, Lueg and you wanted to represent a broader experience, a wider view of reality. I wondered if you could say something more about this larger vision in relation to the focus of American Pop Art?
Maybe we didn't even have a chance. The message of American Pop Art was so powerful and so optimistic. But it was also very limited, and that led us to believe that we could somehow distance ourselves from it and communicate a different intention.
So, where does that difference lie?
It was not possible for us to produce the same optimism and the same kind of humour or irony. Actually, it was not irony. Lichtenstein is not ironic but he does have a special kind of humour. That's how I could describe it: humour and optimism. For Polke and me, everything was more fragmented. But how it was broken up is hard to describe.
Would it be fair to say that for you Fluxus triggered a kind of rebirth of painting?
Yes, extrinsically, but in terms of pictures it was Pop art with ist new picture motifs. But Fluxus introduced a further dimension, a sense of impropriety and lunacy. That was fascinating. Those actions in Aachen and Düsseldorf, by Cage, Paik, Beuys, and many others – I never experienced that again.
You sometimes describe yourself as a classical painter.
I'm never really sure what that word means, but however inaccurately I use it, 'classical' was always my ideal, as long as I can remember, and something of that has always stayed with me, to this day. Of course, there were difficulties, because in comparison to my ideal, I didn't even come close.
And what is it that connects Vermeer, Palladio, Bach, Cage?
It's that same quality I've been talking about. It's neither contrived, nor surprising and smart, not baffling, not witty, not interesting, not cynical, it can't be planned and it probably can't even be described. It's just good.