The mention of the word ‘Kitsch’ often leads one to think about cheap and gimmicky objects along with bad taste. This is because the phrase is derived from the German word ‘verkitschen’, meaning cheap in production value. It first became apparent in the 1860s and 1870s to describe art sold at German markets. Even though some scholars including Clement Greenberg looked at kitsch objects as lowbrow and the opposite to ‘high-art’, many are turning their heads to different interpretations of it. From the 1950s artists started to use popular culture to create or inspire their works, leading to the explosion of Pop Art where artists including Jeff Koons and Paul McCarthy would utilise popular and commercial culture.
It has become a style that can be used intentionally, making something to evoke sentimentality or to pose as an ironic gesture. It is also a default of technological advances, for example objects made through the use of mass production can automatically appear to be kitsch as they embody the stimulation of the image-overloaded world we live in today. Susan Sontag in ‘On Photography’ wrote about her “image addiction” and our constant need to duplicate the real world using reproduced images; this is a consequence of living in industrial societies that have made even something as physical as nature kitsch. For example, a photograph of the sunset is now kitsch rather than sublime because of its mass production. The exhibition explores our complex relationship with our hunger for the original and the ability of technological advances to create an enhanced duplicate that satisfies our aesthetic addiction. Also Celeste Olalquiaga in ‘The Artificial Kingdom’ looks at kitsch as a product of a larger sensibility of loss. In our case, the exhibition is looking at the loss of human’s connection to nature in an image-overloaded world. Olalquiaga examines how through the kitsch we can momentarily re-create experiences that exist only in memory and fantasy whilst proving why the aesthetic is just as relevant now as it was to the era that it was born.
We as curators did not start from this point, nor set out to create an exhibition about ‘The Kitsch’ but along the way became aware of the fact that nature through commodity has become kitsch. Thus we consciously chose to include elements that embody the tongue-in-cheek gesture of kitsch, to use the sentimentality and nostalgia for nature in a mode of display and installation that would often be seen as ‘decorative’.
We are daring to present the gallery space as a rather kitsch environment, showing fine art that plays on the ideas of nature becoming nostalgic through the simulation of the original in a society that so often feels the need to go ‘back to nature’ and is in a way making nature kitsch through its mass push for the need of more greenery in a concrete and screen driven world.
This also creates a tie between curator-audience-gallery-artist as the exhibition is placed in a commercial setting. Using these pinpoints, we have created an exhibition that intentionally uses kitsch elements to examine our complex relationships with nature, nostalgia and the commercial world. A playful application of the ‘Kitsch’ aesthetic allows us to draw out a nostalgia from the audience and to address the notions that nature is still a relevant topic for artists past it’s romantic connotations.