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.
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.
Contact with like-minded painters – a group means a great deal to me: nothing comes in isolation. We have worked out our ideas largely by talking them through. Shutting myself away in the country, for instance, would do nothing for me. One depends on one's surroundings. And so the exchange with other artists – and especially the collaboration with Lueg and Polke – matters a lot to me: it is part of the input that I need.