An Enquiry on Kitsch

An Enquiry on Kitsch

It was said about good taste: we all perceive it but it is very difficult to perceive it. In his Confessions, Saint Augustine stated the same thing about time, and Leopardi taught us that a profound dialogue exists between the phenomena of custom and tragedy, or death. What has been said about good taste is also valid for bad taste, or kitsch. The latter is haunting, palpable and elusive at the same time. It is always renewed but always remains the same. Ultimately, it continues to be a mystery. While there is a certain agreement on good taste, as far as kitsch is concerned, there are so many interpretations that they reach the diaspora. This is especially valid when it comes to architecture. It is not free from bad taste, indeed it seems to grant kitsch a worrying stability, yet time transfigures kitsch, shifting its plan of action.

Here is a brief excursus:

– for Hermann Broch kitsch is the fruit of cultural hypocrisy

– for Lev Tolstoj kitsch is poddelka, or continuous counterfeiting

– for Gustave Flaubert kitsch is bêtise, human stupidity

– for Nikolaj Vasil’evič Gogol’-Janovskij kitsch is pošlost, or total absence of modesty

– for Milan Kundera kitsch is shared sentimentalism

– for Romano Guardini kitsch is endemic and infesting

– for Gillo Dorfles kitsch is the waste product of the oscillations of taste

– for Paul Valéry, good taste is nothing more than the sum of bad tastes

– for Susan Sontag kitsch tends to transform into Camp

– for Clement Greenberg, for Roger Scruton and Ernst Gombrich the avant-garde is the revolt against kitsch

– for Walter Benjamin, kitsch tends to abolish the distance between observer and observed object

– for Maurizio Mantellini the new kitsch is “low resolution”

– for Hans-Georg Gadamer kitsch embodies a formal property of the artwork

– for Ludwig Giesz kitsch is a narcissistic experience

– for José Ortega y Gasset kitsch is the fruit of the degeneration of romanticism

– for Umberto Eco, kitsch exploits the discoveries of the avant-garde by vulgarizing it

– for Adolf Loos kitsch is criminal ornamentation

– for Le Corbusier kitsch is the triumph of bric-à-brac

– for Alessandro Mendini you have to be very rigorous to get the most out of kitsch

– for Theodor W. Adorno kitsch is comfortable and comforting

– for Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller, kitsch arises from extreme condescension towards the public

– for Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown we must learn from kitsch

– for Paolo Portoghesi kitsch is another inhibition of modern architecture

– for Franco La Cecla kitsch is a problem only in the West

– for Abraham Moses, kitsch accumulates, simplifies and inflates

– for Rem Koolhaas kitsch is junk space

…we could go on.

And to continue we have decided to open a collective investigation, an investigation into kitsch in architecture (and not only) today. Both to understand the reasons for its elusiveness and to collectively approach its mystery.

The question that Viceversa 10 asks the authors is: what is kitsch today?

In which architectures is it embodied?


Damiano Di Mele is an architect, PhD student at the Sapienza University of Rome in international co-tutorship with the Universidad Politécnica de Madrid (UPM). He graduated cum laude from the Iuav University of Venice after a training period in Spain. His current research focuses on the analysis of issues related to the history and criticism of contemporary Spanish architecture in the relationship between figurativeness and structure. He participates in research activities in the GIPC group (Grupo de Investigación en Paisaje Cultural) at the department of Proyectos Arquitectónicos of the Escuela Técnica Superior de Arquitectura de Madrid (ETSAM), where he has been a visiting doctoral researcher since 2022.

Valerio Paolo Mosco (Rome 1964) is the author of, among others: “Fragilità in architettura” (LetteraVentidue, 2023); “Kitsch in architettura” (LetteraVentidue, 2023); “Frugalità in architettura” (LetteraVentidue, 2022); “Giuseppe Terragni: la guerra, la fine” (Forma Edizioni, 2021); “Architettura italiana, Dal postmoderno ad oggi” (Skira, 2017); “L’ultima cattedrale” (Sagep, 2015); “Nuda architettura” (Skira, 2012); “Sessant’anni di ingegneria italiana” (Edilstampa, 2010); “Architettura a Volume Zero” (with Aldo Aymonino, Skira, 2006).