The ones at the side of handcraftsmanship against modernist methods rising at 19’th century were qualified as “nostalgic” within time. Because also the almost squeezing by modernist art, of Art Nouveau which is accepted with the hope of getting rid of the deadlock where Western Art entered, which may be counted as last resistance of embellishment, is indicator of this. However the “homemade” adjective being settled at minds as a criteria from this era turned around and faced us in form of kitsch at 20’th century! Art Nouveau movement being adopted for reaching people’s joy of life with esthetical pleasure inside daily usage by targeting the standing against the machine entering between human and material, may be qualified today as “kitsch” with its excessively fragile elegance and excess embellishment. At this writing, let’s try to dig under the kitsch concept which was produced to create contradiction, but couldn’t get rid of contradiction within itself. Even let’s increase our daring, and let’s explain the condemnation to method and idea infertility, of the one in effort of making exist itself only through its opposite!
Although kitsch arises from “socializing” goodwill, at the end its being the one “addressing to low appreciation level” hosts under it an ulterior motive which cannot be quite hidden. Because according to this idea, the general one has low appreciation level!(1) At his famous article “Avant-garde and Kitsch”, while Clement Greenberg was proposing that kitsch was a resisting way against consumption culture of Modernist art, he couldn’t yet get rid of the influences of the ideas putting forth Art Nouveau. Not much later than the article of Greenberg, the conversion of Pop Art from its criticizing the system by using images being appropriated to the system, to the point where it started to produce discourses for affirmation of the system is almost like a lesson of the history. Whatever the esthetical and ethical matter of the producing one, the addressing to kitsch by taking what the one being appropriated to general one has at its hand for criticizing the general with it, reminds the bad destiny of Pop Art. However almost for a century, the production of kitsch continues. The departing point is the same: pulling the art to an anti-elitist line against being unique.
The cultural logic of multinational Capitalism (postmodernism), “kitsch” as esthetical values at art brought to popular level concepts such as “kemp”, “pastiche”, “retro” in purposely kitsch meaning. It rendered them the substance of the uncertainty where entertainment and art were intermingled. It made this with an indifference situation inside an enthusiastic radicalism by adopting cynically the ironic criticism on purpose. Thus the opening of kitsch at art is by now quite far from the its popular, consequently low value, i.e. common definition. Hoe one arrived to this point may be explained by departing from the simulation theory of Baudrillard. Baudrillard mentions firstly about that the human emulating the nature renders it the object of the art with mimesis, i.e. imitation. However he says that within time human fills the example lack being created by the splitting from the nature, with the object itself again, and from here he arrives to simulation theory.(2) The art starts to imitate the imitation. The kitsch provided its “reality” very higher than naturalness level, i.e. in excessive level with imitation of the imitation. Because that it is based on repetitions while being produced among ready patterns, it could be nothing but the repetition of life rules. As it may be claimed for some ones, the claim of that the need for sincerity is felt so that the kitsch can be kitsch, is stalled off at the very beginning with the settling of this concept itself on insincerity at the very beginning. Right here, the looking at the art of our day with the aim of witnessing how the kitsch which is the limpid form of “homemade” sensibility is converted into its opposite, will help us to clarify the matter.
The first name which may come to mind when kitsch is said is Jeff Koons certainly who decided and became an artist while he was broker at Wall Street. The big dogs that he made at city squares out of simple and brilliant material or his several similar works are productions as typical as to bring us to the definition of kitsch. Koons’ porcelain statuettes are the again Art Nouveau based reinterpretation of a part of the tradition of people to embellish their homes. The cheapest, ingenious invention of 20’th century convertible in every form, the petroleum remain plastic is a material often used by artists like Koons who produce kitsch. Then, what is the situation at our country while a kitsch producer like Koons still works at West?
We are at year 2007 and today our recent past years 80s are accepted as kitsch with everything. It is interesting, the years where kitsch in Western meaning starts to appear in our country overlap with this period. With September 12’th intervention, the cancellation of obstacles in front of the passage to open market economy, the social depoliticization, the bourgeoisie being integrated with global capital, new privileged professionals whose welfare levels increase with the roles that they play within these relations, Turkey which is opened to West, especially to USA as a new market... Art galleries being spread in quantity and space... The artist’s and art theorist’s assuming a “professional” identity, their becoming distinguished with the neo liberal conversion being lived. Under these circumstances, while some artists produce anew the avant-garde heritage, they start to gather material for themselves from the box of humor. At nightmare years where the criticism was condemned to be hidden, the kitsch production with its humoristic property ought to be counted as criticism by artists. However when all circumstances are evaluated, the main reason of kitsch production at 80s may be seen as the mentioned social conversion and then imposing itself of an American life style.
Gülsün Karamustafa who works contemporary art for years with her different style, since her early periods so far, is among names who rendered kitsch inevitable one of art form. “The Pains Are Mine” dated 1981 where she “criticizes” arabesque which monopolized every kind of popular product of the era and rendered it the culture of lower class, is a typical kitsch art. Again “The Prayer Rug With Elvis” which has usage value, I mean being produced as a real prayer rug is dated year 1986. Another work of Karamustafa “Starwars” shows a villager woman of which the name of the movie is written on the t-shirt. The quite impossibility of this woman’s being fanatic of Starwars pushes the spectator to think upon what the work relates or whom it criticizes why.
Nationalism too which is accepted as one of the most important values of the society has been the material of kitsch. At “Super Turk” work of Halil Altındere, the typical “Turk figure” with moustache and superman t-shirt is a way of rendering Turkism comic. Although the nationalism almost permeating deeply upon masses is a quite back position from the perspective of political consciousness, here the overlapping of its criticism with rendering lower classes comic doesn’t give a quite ethical impression. Again the work of Altındere where he shows Marlboro box being squeezed inside white sock deciphers lower classes having the “philistinism” of wearing white sock, but at rudeness not abstaining from smoking Marlboro. Another artist Şener Özmen’s fictitious character’s name “Abdülbaki Readymade” too who kidnaps Tracy Emin has a similar attitude.
Another theme that artists who target being traditional and who make this by presenting it to the regards of the “other one” through bringing under spots only at art medium without adding anything upon what is traditional, address, is “inside home”. The “producer mind” tending to expose enters into a kind of process of rejecting itself by being directed towards not so far without doubt, but its own home. Halil Altındere’s “My Mother Likes Fluxus Because Fluxus Is An Anti-Art” dated year 2002 is one of the examples only. Again Şener Özmen’s “The Work” where he shows two woman who blow up balloons of plastic with balloons with all of their seriousness, is a cynical work referring to futile work, idle time, i.e. emptiness, parodying the poor family women’s requirement of getting small work to home for earning money, and making this without having any smallest belief in that the circumstances will change. At art, this way of showing the poverty reveals a situation of getting pleasure form pains anyway. At this example, the house medium where the women are has a “perfect” reality which cannot be fictionalized.
The fiction is the means of damaging the reality of the “real one”. The fiction describing the real one with exaggeration is the easiest way of bringing the real one to the most far point from where it is. A kitsch snapshot departing from the idea of adding a photograph to the artist Ahmet Öğüt’s interview(!) with Şener Özmen as if interviewing, is in form where the fiction starts and where the reality ends are mixed up quite a lot with each other. The attitude being exemplified with this work arrives at the result to claiming that there isn’t such thing as reality. However what is forgotten is that the tragic reality is always on the outlook for arriving anew!
Again Ahmet Öğüt’s work taking as subject first Turkish car “Revolution” with the same name, is because of the car’s almost complete fabrication with hand, with his own expression. At this work, the big interest for craft brought together with it inevitably rendering kitsch as attitude. Because Revolution is drawn to the wall of Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center again by hand!
One of the works at “Class Hegemony in Contemporary Art” exhibition being realized at month April in Platform Garanti Contemporary Art Center, denounces obviously the bad intention of the one producing kitsch. At the exhibition, San Keller photographed the houses of artists’ families for showing how they exhibit the works of their children at home. The generation gap between mother-father hanging Mona Lisa reproduction which is maybe studentship work of their children right near the stove and the artist child is lanced as a kind of culture difference.(3)
The parading this culture difference which cannot be certainly denied, by rendering it kitsch cannot be defended. Also the works of Burcu Günay, Cengiz Tekin or Volkan Aslan render the life areas of parents the material of the art with spectacle focus. The photographs taken by Neriman Polat from Hafriyat group for the exhibition “Proper To Family” are of kind rendering ironically myth the “Guest Room” that mothers prepare with care or rendering kitsch the handcraft lace etc. works. However not the lace itself, but the mother making the lace is the real material of kitsch by now!
The work of Selda Asal named “My Home My Sweet Home” parodies “bad art appreciation” by showing in the middle, inside a red lake an old house remains within a gold latten frame. Another work “We Are Not Who You Think” from “At the Lap of The Bourgeoisie” exhibition at Platform Garanti gets similar strategies as principle. The producer of the work Annika Erikkson advised to security element of the gallery Fevzi Çakmak to select the painting that he likes from Garanti Bank painting collection and exhibited them at the exhibition in a squeezed manner.
Here the “philistinism” of the society by the eye of someone from the lower class is delivered to the initiative of a person visiting the gallery with a smile at his face.(4) “Kitsch” that artists made accept with their being right in corrupted order criticism is converted into insult to victims of corrupted order. The producer endeavors to clear himself.
Today the artists create kitsch by using their own codes, after having taken mass culture from the hands of the mass. This hides behind it the motive of strengthening his place against the mass even his creativity. Even today kitsch is created at art with least intervention never having been in its history. The one producing kitsch as level lowness at popular meaning, i.e. not the society but the intellectual mind interpreting it, rendering it subject to categorization, deciphering it is in situation of being the real producer.
Baudrillard says “Contemporary art renders the past a play and kitsch, and includes in its account.” and continues; “This recycling operation is a kind of fossilized irony. This irony is the last phase of the art history. It is as if the art searches as history its own rescue way inside remains by fiddling about its own garbage cans.”(5) In such a medium, the aiming criticism with kitsch making itself exist creates a quite dangerous situation. Because what seems criticism, aware or not, approves the system today.(6) Moreover while doing this, it doesn’t allow the spectator to conceive the situation, because the resolving hidden meaning behind kitsch is “expert” work. Consequently the producer who doesn’t leave to anybody the opposition which should be made puts his correspondent spectator under the domination of his dominant discourse with the tools at his hand!
Art and life became intricate in a way that 20’th century avant-gardes couldn2t guess quite. However in a medium where everything is inserted into esthetical domain, the existence, what’ness of art is doubtful. At this point, let’s leave the last word to Hermann Broch: “The kitsch producer, whoever he is... should not be evaluated with esthetic values, the morality of the person producing kitsch is bad; he is a guilty desiring the worst.”(7)
1 For the writing where the relation of the mentioned concept with popular level is discussed sociologically, look at: Hasan Bülent Kahraman, Artistic Realities, Facts and Beyond, “Kitsch: A Regard Essay From The Perspectives of Esthetics-Sociology and Turkey Essay”, Everest Publishing, İstanbul 2002, pp: 237-252.
2 Jean Baudrillard, Simulacra and Simulation, Translated by Oğuz Adanır, East-West Publishing, İstanbul 2003.
3 This photograph is taken again from the house of artist Ahmet Öğüt’s family living at Diyarbakır.
4 For the sharp spoken writing explaining this exhibition in detail, look at: Elif Dastarlı, “At The Lap of the Bourgeoisie”, rh+sanart magazine, Issue 38, March 2007, pp: 26-31.
5 Jean Baudrillard, Illusion, Lost Illusion and Esthetics, East-West Magazine, Issue: 19 May-June-July 2002, Translated by Oğuz Adanır, pp: 9-29.
6 For the writing at “hurting” obviousness about the form of kitsch at our day, look at: Ahmet Oktay, Art and Politics, “Kitsch Society and Its Human” and “Few More Words Upon Kitsch”, Everest Publishing, İstanbul 2004, pp: 284-294.
7 Donald Kuspit communicating from Hermann Broch, In The End of Art, Translated by Yasemin Tezgiden, Metis Publishing, February 2006, p. 13.