Boris Groys: Towards the New Realism, 2016

Recently we have seen a growing interest in realism, which for a long time seemed historically passé. But the notion of realism is not as obvious as it seems. One often understands “realism” to mean the production of mimetic images of “reality.” One can of course agree with this definition. However, the question remains: How do we initially meet reality? How do we discover reality in order to become able to make an image of it? Of course, we can speak about reality as everything that presents itself to our “natural,” uninformed, and technologically unarmed gaze. Traditional icons seem to us to be nonrealistic because they seek to present the “other,” normally nonvisible world. And artworks that seek to confront us with the “essential core” of the world or with a particular artist’s “subjective vision” are usually not recognized as realistic either. We would also not speak of realism when looking at pictures produced with the help of a microscope or telescope. Realism is often defined as the readiness to reject religious and philosophical visions and speculations, as well as technologically produced images. Instead, realism usually involves the reproduction of an average, ordinary, profane view of the world. However, this profane vision of the world is not especially exciting. The desire to depict and reproduce this profane image of the world cannot be explained by its alleged “beauty,” which it obviously does not have.

Groys, Boris: “Towards the New Realism.” e-flux journal 77 (2016), accessed December 12, 2016,