The Artificial Kingdom by Celeste Olalquiaga
A Treasury of the Kitsch Experience

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The Artificial Kingdom is the first book to provide a cultural history of kitsch, an immensely popular aesthetic phenomenon that has always been disdained as "bad taste," or a cheap imitation of art. Proposing instead that kitsch is the product of a larger sensibility of loss, Celeste Olalquiaga shows how it enables the momentary re-creation of experiences that exist only as memories or fantasies. Simultaneously exposing and celebrating this process, Olalquiaga gives us a bold, trenchant analysis of what and how we see when we look at kitsch.

Tracing its beginnings to the nineteenth century--when industrialization transformed nature into an artificial kingdom of miniature scale--Olalquiaga describes the at once exhilarated and melancholic atmosphere where kitsch came to life. In an arresting mix of theory and anecdote, she examines objects from both the past and the present, probing the fluid boundaries between reality and fantasy, and finding in kitsch a phenomenon as relevant to our own time as it was to the era that made it a massive experience.

About Celeste Olalquiaga

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Celeste Olalquiaga is the author of Megalopolis: Contemporary Cultural Sensibilities (University of Minnesota Press, 1992). She was born in Santiago de Chile and grew up in Caracas, Venezuela. She has a Ph.D. from Columbia University, has received Rockefeller and Guggenheim awards, and lives in New York City.
Published December 1, 1998 by Pantheon. 336 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography, Education & Reference. Non-fiction

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That effort of repossession seems doomed from the start, since kitsch oscillates constantly between the embodiment of lived experience and its loss, exuding the “peculiar sadness of broken or even half-forgotten dreams.” Olalquiaga doesn—t hesitate to implicate herself in her own musings on kitsc...

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Publishers Weekly

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In typically dense phrasing, Olalquiaga explains the process of becoming ""kitsch"" as the result of a given object's ""paradoxical resistance to and glorification of a wholesale notion of authenticity."" This may seem a high-flown vocabulary for describing ""Rodney, king of the hermit crabs,"" a...

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London Review of Books

But I have returned from my musing and the spell is broken.’ Rodney, Olalquiaga insists, is kitsch, and her book, as it develops, is a historical enquiry into the intertwining stories of the glass-encased bibelot, the cabinet of curiosities, the cluttered drawing-room, the fake mermaid, the subaq...

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