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Modernism, Postmodernism and Gleam: On the Photorealist Work Ethic

Looking at the Photorealist’s fetish for surface and gleam, Dieter Roelstraete sees the reflection of the movement’s oversized investment in craft, made at a time when the economy was moving towards service and immateriality.

It is the mark of all labouring that it leaves nothing behind.

– Hannah Arendt 01


Photorealism has long been, is and will probably always remain something of a guilty pleasure, and any and every consideration (such as, precisely, the present one) of that peculiar moment in North American art in the 1960 and 70s will forever come swathed in apology. It must always answer the same questions – why photorealism now, why photorealism at all? 02

Not that it is in any way the sole standard against which all art-historical thinking and writing should henceforth be measured (though it certainly, if only by virtue of its size and agenda, aspires to that claim), but in the whole of the October team’s formidable, 700-page-plus Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, Postmodernism (2004), for instance, I did not find a single reference to the entire Photo- or hyperrealist phenomenon. 03 The tome in question features plenty of Sur-realism, of course, some Socialist Realism, and even the odd nod to the non- extant movement of Capitalist Realism, but not the slightest trace of that all-American art movement Photorealism – even though it clearly was a sufficiently defining feature of late 1960s and early 70s art to warrant its inclusion in Harald Szeemann’s landmark documenta 5 exhibition in 1972. This exhibition, titled ‘Questioning Reality – Pictorial Worlds’ (this is all too often forgotten), was particularly important for its championing of a wide range of conceptually inflected art practices as belonging to the most vibrant, influential art ‘movement’ of the day, and we can assume Szeemann likewise understood the Photorealist program of Richard Estes, Ralph Goings et al. to be somehow aligned with the great wealth of radical questionings that informed forward-looking art practice in general at the time. It is clear, however, that this sympathetic view of the movement didn’t age very well, and as Photorealism went on to become a dependable source of income for a limited number of industrious US painters, it was gradually omitted from art-historical orthodoxy, and later also from art-historical heterodoxy – in short, from art history as a whole. Some 37 years on – the genre was the subject of a modest survey show organised at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in 2009, and seeing that retrospective exhibition is what sparked most of my thinking on the topic 04 – Photorealism has been whittled down to something akin to proletarian 1970s folk art, and the strong whiff of nostalgia (for a long-lost, partly illusory idea of American-ness first and foremost) that infuses its low-key reanimation continues to exclude it from a standardised art history. With this essay, which does not (at least not in the first place) set out to analyse the various reasons why Photorealism has been considered such a minor art, I want to reconsider this movement as one of the truly emblematic ‘isms’ of the 1970s – much more so, perhaps, than many of the canonical forms of Conceptual art that now occupy our memory of that decade, and whose uncanny ‘other’ or mirror image Photorealism has so often been made out to be. 05


Back in the late 1960s and early 70s, to be a real, hardcore Photorealist, to prove one’s mettle in the already evacuating field of painting, one was required to focus almost exclusively on the hyperrealist rendition of shiny, glossy and glassy surfaces – on gleam: of the chrome body of a car, truck or motorbike (the specialty of Tom Blackwell and Ron Kleemann in particular); spotless shop windows and reflecting telephone booths (the preferred motifs of Robert Cottingham, Don Eddy and Estes, the most widely known of the ‘pure’ Photorealists); glitzy diners and immaculately wrapped foodstuffs (Charles Bell, Audrey Flack and Goings’s field of expertise); the flickering skins of people and hides of animals (prize stallions in Richard McLean’s case, people’s glittering eyeballs in the work of Chuck Close, women’s torsos in John Kacere’s paintings). Mirrors, in short, as much as dizzying suggestions of a culture of transparency – represented by the ubiquity of glass surfaces in Estes’s paintings – paradoxically remain resolutely opaque. At first sight, the Photorealist fetish for shiny surfaces may appear as a rather straightforward comment upon (and, in the Pop spirit of a James Rosenquist or Tom Wesselmann to which it seemed heir, uncomplicated celebration of) the consumerist frenzy of the 1960s commodities boom. This paradox of a transparent opacity could be said to concern the ‘mystery’ of commodification primarily, in which the event of (window) shopping appears as the simulacral primal scene of all Photorealism. But upon closer scrutiny, the Photorealist obsession with the blinding sheen of these various surface effects – apart from (ironically!) tying in with Clement Greenberg’s basic characterisation of ‘flatness’ as the cardinal virtue of high-modernist painting – and the concomitant confusion of opacity and transparency, or ‘inside’ and ‘outside’, appears more closely connected with what may rightfully be described as theparadigmatic architectural feature of urban life in the early 70s, namely that quality which Fredric Jameson, in his authoritative chronicle of postmodernism as the ‘cultural logic of late capitalism’, has called ‘depthlessness’. 06 Jameson uses this term (which comes laden with certain moral overtones) to describe buildings characterised by great sheets of glass and gravity defying two-dimensional surfaces that seem unsupported by any volume, at least none that is ocularly decidable – leading him to deplore the fact that ‘many are the postmodern buildings that seem to have been designed for photography’ only (or, if we are allowed this quip, for Photorealism painting only).The building referred to by Jameson in this description is the 1983 Wells Fargo Center for the Arts by Skidmore, Owings and Merrill in downtown Los Angeles, and although it did not, to my knowledge, become the object of Photorealist homage, the centrality given to it by Jameson in his account of postmodern architecture certainly intersects with the Photorealist fascination with impenetrable glass surfaces. Both highlight the office tower block and similarly iconic sites of the burgeoning service industry (shops, diners, entertainment centres) as the primary exemplars of the profound transformation wrought upon the world of work in the mid-1960s to mid-70s – and the ‘world of work’ truly is the crucial phrase here. 07

Whenever I walk past the imposing row of identikit office tower blocks lining Midtown Manhattan’s Sixth Avenue, I think not only of the hilarious 1980 comedy Nine to Five, starring Jane Fonda, Dolly Parton and Lily Tomlin as three working women plotting to overthrow their insufferably sexist boss, but somewhere further along this stream of associations I also imagine none other than Richard Estes sitting down in the same diner where the Nine to Five women take their lunch, eavesdropping on their conspiratorial exchanges and preparing to commit this quintessential City of Glass scene to painterly memory. In this sense, Photorealism, as an art form enchanted with the endless proliferation of shiny surfaces that render all questions of both origin and substance oddly irrelevant, could be said to function as North America’s very own brand of 1970s Socialist Realism: it obliquely reflects (no pun intended!) both the central economic event of the era – the triumph, incarnated by the glass- sheet office tower, of the service (and culture) industries over more traditional, ageing industries from the secondary sector (such as steel and coal), whose Spartan work ethic and macho machine aesthetic still informed, in a melancholy kind of way, the Minimalism of Donald Judd and Carl Andre 08 – as well as, more literally, the actual conditions of labour (i.e. glassencased office work) in this new regime of consumption rather than production.

Just like the original orthodoxy of Soviet Socialist Realism, Photorealism primarily commented upon the world of work, albeit a very different world of work (there is relatively little real domesticity or privacy in much Photorealist output, Robert Bechtle’s family portraits notwithstanding – the movement’s most persistent obsession was always the urban experience). In fact, it often seemed to depict work more directly than some of the explicitly politicised art of the time (the Maoist paintings of Jörg Immendorff come to mind, as do the writings of Art & Language), whose occasionally perfunctory rhetoric of labour activism and solidarity with the workers may now – enter the saddening ironies of historical circumstance – strike many as hollow. Of course the laborious production of a Photorealist tableau itself was definitely ‘work’ in a way that actively challenged the doxa of de-skilling then current in post-Duchampian avant-garde art. Responding to a question of whether there exists such a thing as a Photorealist work ethic, Louis K. Meisel, the gallerist who was the movement’s most influential impresario, proudly remarked that ‘Photorealists had to work eight or ten hours a day. [Truly ‘nine to five’ then. – DR] They didn’t drink, didn’t smoke or do drugs. They were among the most stable people of any that I’ve ever seen, just making work that required stability and seriousness. That may have made them boring to people who expect artists to be troubled and dissolute.’ 09 Disregarding for a minute the important fact that the laborious production of said tableaux made for rare and highly valued commodities (among art collectors who cared for such a thing and weren’t phased by the critical dismissal of the genre by the New York intelligentsia), we are left with the intriguing paradox of Photorealism’s definite investment in notions of craft and the artisanal production of images, on the one hand, and its move to chronicle precisely those early years of postmanual, post-craft, post-industrial, post-Fordist post-production on the other. Already then, Photorealism must have struck many a viewer as deliberately nostalgic indeed – the works’ elegiac tone easily recast as an expression of its perceived reactionary agenda: here was a picture of a world (of sound American family values, among other things) destined to go up in smoke. But its emergence as a movement was also, indisputably, timely: it painted an accurate portrait (if not outright reflection) of the very processes through which this world was evaporating.


In having to prove one’s mastery of the form by painting reflections rather than the things reflected, Photorealism as a diagnostic form is literally reflexive – but it is also metaphorically ‘reflexive’ in a way that is clearly reminiscent of the Impressionists (Édouard Manet foremost among them), whose pictorial interest in the confusing symbology of modern urban life was often expressed in depictions of steam as the spectral shadow of a process of industrialisation that was slowly moving into (and transforming) the contemporary life-world. Photorealist gleamas a cipher of the transition to postmodernism, then – much like Impressionist steam had been the symbol, a century earlier, of the alternately traumatic and exhilarating inauguration of a certain modernity, as T.J. Clark has noted in an essay appropriately titled ‘Modernism, Postmodernism, and Steam’ (2002). 10

Clark’s essay begins with the author’s admission that ‘Over the past twelve months or so I found myself thinking about modern art and steam’ – a stream of thoughts triggered by Tony Oursler’s video installation The Influence Machine from 2000, in which a ghostly oversized face was projected onto a cloud of water vapour in Madison Square Park in New York:

… steam, in the art of the last two centuries, was never unequivocally a figure of emptying and evanescence. It was always also an image of power. Steam could be harnessed; steam could be compressed. Steam was what initially made the machine world possible. It was the middle term in mankind’s great reconstruction of Nature. Rain, Steam, and Speed. 11 > The speed that followed from compression turns the world into one great vortex in the Turner, one devouring spectral eye, where rain, sun, cloud and river are seen, from the compartment window, as they have never been seen before. Steam is power and possibility, then; but also, very soon, it is antiquated – it is a figure of nostalgia, for a future, or a sense of futurity, that the modern age had at the beginning but could never make come to pass. Hence the trails or puffs of steam always on the horizon of de Chirico’s dreamscapes. 12

Later in the essay, Clark turns to Manet’s Le Chemin de fer (The Railroad) from 1873: ‘Steam is this painting’s great subject, clearly; and how people relate to steam, how they face it or do not face it; how they turn to face us. It does not take much ingenuity to see that steam in the Manet is a metaphor for a general, maybe constitutive, instability – for things in modernity incessantly changing their shape, hurrying forward, dispersing and growing impalpable’ 13 – for the tragic fact, in other words, that ‘all that was once solid, melts into air’, to quote a celebrated passage from The Communist Manifesto. Steam and/as appearance are Manet’s ruling tropes, not just in this painting, but in many more like it (think of the large mirror in the background of Un Bar aux Folies- Bergère from 1882): ‘steam is the surface that life as a whole is becoming’, as Clark puts it. How oddly appropriate this all sounds with regards to the culture of depthlessness and the simulacrum, as Jameson characterised the postmodern era we continue to live in.


Like the gleam of shop windows lining Broadway in New York, the trails of steam that shroud so much Impressionist (or, in the case of Turner, proto-Impressionist) art figure as traces of the world of work, whose instability is the very essence of modernity – and its interrogation the well-established hallmark of all realisms. Indeed, the centrality of the depiction of (the modern world of) work, not just to Photorealism and/or Socialist Realism, but to realism as a whole is taken up by Linda Nochlin in her groundbreaking study Realism, published in 1971 (at a time, in other words, when, thanks to both the Photorealists and the interest taken by many politicised Conceptual artists in the legacy of Social Realism, the realist controversy seemed to have returned to centre stage). Noting how the working peasant had already appeared as a figural motif in his own right in the art of the Middle Ages and the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, Nochlin writes that ‘it was not until the 1848 Revolution which raised the dignity of labour to official status and the grandeur of le peuple to an article of faith, that artists turned […] to the depiction of work and its concrete setting as a major subject for art – as a possible subject even for an artistic masterpiece on a monumental scale.14 […] For the 1848 Revolution had raised the issue of labour as a major issue for the first time. The right to work became a crucial question. The working man played a prominent role in the revolutionary festivals of the new regime, the popular revolutionary form of address becoming “labourer” rather than “citizen”.’ 15 Here, we can finally turn to the father of realism in earnest, Gustave Courbet.

When I saw Courbet’s work assembled in two massive retrospective exhibitions held in Paris and New York two years ago, the greatest surprise came in the guise of the artist’s late still-lifes, which I had never really paid much attention to: magnificent stacks of apples, painted while he was imprisoned, late in life, for his role in toppling the Napoleonic column on the Place Vendôme during the heady days of the Paris Commune, and three mid-size paintings of gleaming trout. As Laurence Des Cars put it in the accompanying catalogue, ‘these canvases, which belong among the most poignant experiences of the real formulated by Courbet, allow painting itself its full metaphorical power’.16 Could this metaphorical power not be located precisely in the dark gloss of the meticulously applied varnish that envelops Courbet’s trout, caught as they are in the agony of their last gasps for air – life’s very own tantalising gleam?


What about Photorealism today? Most of the protagonists from the early 1970s are still painting and exhibiting, occasionally, at Louis K. Meisel’s gallery in SoHo. No doubt there is a crisis-proof market for this kind of work – and as we already heard from Meisel himself, the artists in his stable lead lives of a type that will probably see them continuing to ply their trade for some time to come. In Britain, I have come across the work of Alan Michael, who has painted both the shiny, undulating body of a Mini Cooper (Cars and Houses, 2008) and the harsh gleam of freshly polished shoes (Untitled (Shoes), 2005): it is hard not to look at the latter without thinking back to Andy Warhol’s Diamond Dust Shoes (1980-81) series, which, along with the Wells Fargo Center, figure so prominently in Fredric Jameson’s passionate critique of our postmodern simulacracy.15 An exhibition I saw of the work of Thomas Demand in Berlin just recently also reminded me of the fact that our deeply seated suspicion (if not outright hostility) towards hyperrealisms of all kinds is ultimately rooted in the low esteem that such fancies as the technique of trompe-l’oeil painting have been held in historically – a residual trace of the original Platonic indictment of all mimesis, perhaps. 17

What ultimately matters most in any current consideration of Photorealism (or of the currency of Photorealism as such), however, is its relation to the tradition of realism more generally: perhaps the ‘problem’ of Photorealism is not so much situated in its retrograde dependence upon the largely discredited truth-claims of photography, but in its realist pedigree instead – and for much of the past century, pictorial realism has mainly been the object of scorn and condescension, or of pity at best. Indeed, aside from their fascination with the decidedly unsexy topic of work (and, just as importantly, the classes who perform this work), is it not simply their unflinching attachment to an unashamedly ‘realist’ agenda, as much as their industrial-like production that has ensured the systematic art-historical marginalisation of both Socialist Realism and Photorealism, as evinced by so many authoritative histories of twentieth-century art?18 Some have been rescued since, so there may be hope for the critical plight of the Photorealists; their contribution to the intellectual history of realism, which I have attempted to locate in the historical relationship of their work to the transformation of the workplace, will turn up at the forefront of this eventual reappraisal.

In the meantime, a new, post-Photorealist realism may well be readying itself to dominate the art scene in the decade to come – for crises truly breed realisms, and ‘crisis’ has been the unofficial name of our time for a little while now. Realism proper (that of the original nineteenth-century variety); Socialist Realism; Walker Evans’s, Dorothea Lange’s and Diego Rivera’s realism; Capitalist Realism; Critical Realism; and, most topically, Photorealism: they all belong to defining moments of economic, political, social and cultural crisis – the last, as we have seen, to a crisis that concerned the world of work in particular, resulting, precisely, in depictions and descriptions of its gradual dismantling. The fact that the glory years of Photorealism were also marked by an economic downturn (hence its sensitivity to issues surrounding labour, and its nostalgia-laden espousal of a good old-fashioned work ethic) is not without importance when considering this particular realism’s afterlife in the current era – one sorely in need of financial realism, and of a return to (rather than of) the real as in ‘real work’.


  • Hannah Arendt, The Human Condition, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1958, p.87. This quote is taken from the book’s chapter on labour; a little bit further, another remark worth keeping in mind when reading this essay: ‘[T]he artist […] is the only “worker” left in a labouring society.’ Ibid., p.127.
  • Already here I must warn the reader that we shall be looking at Photorealism first and foremost as a North American phenomenon. Hyperrealist painting techniques obviously also existed in art that was being made elsewhere around the same time (the Swiss Franz Gertsch and Germans Gerhard Richter and Werner Tübke come to mind), but nowhere did these scattered practices coalesce into a movement, complete with an actual manifesto, as was the case with American Photorealism.
  • On the whole, the authors of the book, Yve-Alain Bois, Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, Hal Foster and Rosalind Krauss, do not appear to deem the various offshoots of the grand tradition of realism worthy of more than just the most fleeting and perfunctory of mentions: in their view, all realisms clearly and essentially belong to the domain of ‘art before 1900’. In this sense, their critical project appears to confirm the master narrative of twentieth-century art as the history of the progressive marginalisation of both realism and the idea of realism.
  • ‘Picturing America: Photorealism in the 1970s’, Deutsche Guggenheim Berlin, 7 March-10 May 2009. Tellingly, this was the first showing of North American Photorealist painting in Germany since Szeemann’s 1972 documenta.
  • That said, we of course must acknowledge the fact that Conceptual art (and its various offshoots) has come to occupy the major part of our memories of the art produced in the period spanning 1967 to 1972 precisely because, as a movement, it has proven so much more influential than Photorealism, which is rather a precisely defined historical phenomenon with a limited geographical scope: Conceptual art is, without a doubt, still with us, while Photorealism obviously strikes the contemporary viewer as much more remote – as remote as seventeenth-century Dutch still-life painting, for instance. The point I want to make, however, concerns the remoteness of the world it depicts (as much as, if not more than, the remoteness of the genre or movement as such), which is exactly why it is worth reconsidering Photorealism after all.
  • Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or, the Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Durham: Duke University Press, 1990, p.99. One of the (relatively few) contemporary artists referred to in this landmark study is Duane Hanson, the creator of hyperrealist sculptures which Jameson discusses, with a slight measure of pathos, in the following terms of simulacral confusion: ‘your moment of doubt and hesitation as to the breath and warmth of these polyester figures […] tends to return upon the real human beings moving about you in the museum and to transform them also for the briefest instant into so many dead and flesh-coloured simulacra in their own right. The world thereby momentarily loses its depth and threatens to become a glossy skin.’ Ibid., p.34. Hanson was the only sculptor, along with John De Andrea, to be consistently named in the company of the ‘true’ Photorealists.
  • I borrow this term from Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello’s The New Spirit of Capitalism (trans. Gregory Elliott), London and New York: Verso, 2005, which offers a riveting account of capitalism’s ruthless recuperation and appropriation of the many ‘artistic’ critiques levelled against it from the mid-1960s onwards – a campaign that was largely driven by the many practices connected with the Conceptual art boom.
  • The one artist whose work most exemplarily bridges the gap between Minimalism’s nostalgic attachment to the golden age of industry (as represented by the steel mills of both Gary, Indiana and Magnitogorsk in Siberia) and the new regime’s emphasis on immaterial labour and corporate governance – of a type that rhetorically adheres to transparency (glass) but in actuality sticks to opacity (mirrors) – is Dan Graham. Graham’s glass pavilions directly reference the various architectural transformations required to accommodate these new conditions of labour (Graham’s Homes for America from 1967 had already highlighted the serendipitous concurrence of Minimalism’s sculptural vernacular with conveyor-belt-type domestic architecture). Even Graham’s interest in (literal) doubling and reflection – articulated in many classic video performances of the 1970s – collides with a similar set of concerns in Photorealist painting. Part of Graham’s (ultimately sympathetic) critique of Minimalism certainly concerned its staunch machismo: Judd’s reverence of the worker came to smack of patriarchy on occasion, and appeared progressively disconnected from the actual process of ‘feminisation’ to which the world of work became subject after the demise of traditional, male-dominated industries. That said, Photorealism as a movement remained a decidedly homosocial affair – Audrey Flack was the only woman painter of some renown in the core group.
  • ‘They Were Really Nice Guys. Louis K. Meisel Talks to David Lubin about Photorealism’s Beginnings’, in Deutsche Guggenheim Magazine, issue 6, Spring 2009, p.18. Meisel first coined the term Photorealism in the late 1960s, and his SoHo gallery has been the world headquarters of Photorealism ever since. Obviously, this very close identification of a certain movement with a single commercial gallery has not helped Photorealism’s claims to be considered an important force in 1970s art.
  • T.J. Clark, ‘Modernism, Postmodernism, and Steam,’ October, vol.100, Spring 2002, pp.154-74.
  • Clark is referring here to J.M.W. Turner’s painting Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway (1844), now in the National Gallery in London.
  • T.J. Clark, ‘Modernism, Postmodernism, and Steam,’ op. cit., pp.156-57.
  • Ibid., p.158.
  • Linda Nochlin, Realism: Style and Civilisation, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1971, p.112. The artistic masterpiece Nochlin refers to is Gustave Courbet’s magisterial Casseurs de pierres (Stone-Breakers) from 1849, lost in the 1945 bombing of Dresden. In an argument that echoes the subtle anachronisms of Minimalism’s attachment to the industrial mode of production at a time when its traditional position of economic primacy was being dismantled, Nochlin invokes the example of another realist classic, namely Ford Madox Brown’s Work from 1852-65, now at the Manchester City Art Gallery: ‘at the same time that the realists were creating a visual compendium of social injustices, they were also finding ways for declaring the heroism, dignity and probity of manual labour, without resorting to traditional symbolism or rather hallowed pictorial devices. Ford Madox Brown’s Workepitomises this attempt to create a new and relevant iconography with which to manifest the heroism of labour – a concept which was itself fairly novel at the time. […] Brown’s Work was extremely of the moment in the issue it raised, even if, ironically, somewhat nostalgic in extolling physical prowess at just the time when, as Michelet had sadly pointed out as early as 1846, the machine was making manly strength an anachronism.’ Ibid., p.127.
  • Laurence Des Cars in Gustave Courbet (exh. cat.), Ostfildern-Ruit: Hatje Cantz Verlag, 2008, p.426. These late works, so clearly loaded with Christian symbolism, singularly blend the personal with the political – a mixture that was not lost on Courbet’s contemporaries, one of whom noted in 1874: ‘I find in it memories of the Commune of Paris and I say to myself: these trout, so unappetising, do they not resemble a little those fish of the Seine, exhausted and dying, during the blockade of Paris?’ Ibid., p.127.
  • That is to say, it is hard not to look at Alan Michael’s painting of shoes without thinking back to the debate sparked by Jameson’s reading of Warhol’s shoes: Jameson famously discusses Warhol’s wellpublicised shoe fetish in relation to an early icon of artistic modernity, Vincent Van Gogh’s Paar Bauernschuhe (Pair of Boots, 1883). In the former, he identifies ‘the emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense, perhaps the supreme formal feature of all postmodernisms. […] Then we must certainly come to terms with the role of photography and the photographic negative in contemporary art of this kind; and it is this, indeed, which confers its deathly quality to the Warhol image.’ F. Jameson, Postmodernism, op. cit., p.9. It is interesting to contrast Warhol’s morbid glaze with the heroic depiction of death in Courbet’s paintings of trout.
  • That is to say, it is hard not to look at Alan Michael’s painting of shoes without thinking back to the debate sparked by Jameson’s reading of Warhol’s shoes: Jameson famously discusses Warhol’s wellpublicised shoe fetish in relation to an early icon of artistic modernity, Vincent Van Gogh’s Paar Bauernschuhe (Pair of Boots, 1883). In the former, he identifies ‘the emergence of a new kind of flatness or depthlessness, a new kind of superficiality in the most literal sense, perhaps the supreme formal feature of all postmodernisms. […] Then we must certainly come to terms with the role of photography and the photographic negative in contemporary art of this kind; and it is this, indeed, which confers its deathly quality to the Warhol image.’ F. Jameson, Postmodernism, op. cit., p.9. It is interesting to contrast Warhol’s morbid glaze with the heroic depiction of death in Courbet’s paintings of trout.
  • See, for example, note 3. One could argue that both Socialist Realism and Photorealism have also been the victims of systematic art-historical marginalisation because much of the work produced according to its respective formulas turned out to be underwhelming or of inferior artistic quality – though this is obviously a problematic assertion to make, seeing as so many historical decisions on the contentious issue of artistic quality may in retrospect turn out to have been economically inspired only, i.e. in terms of a certain art form’s relative success in the art market. Boris Groys has commented upon this troubling equation of what we regard as ‘proper’ (‘good’) art with that which is validated by the art market exclusively in the following suggestive terms: ‘the official as well as unofficial art of the Soviet Union and of other former Socialist states remains almost completely out of focus for the contemporary art history and museum system. […] The only exception is the art of Russian constructivism that was created under NEP, during the temporary reintroduction of the limited free market in Soviet Russia.’ Boris Groys, Art Power, Cambridge, MA and London: The MIT Press, 2008, p.5.