At the vanguard“Art, the expression of society,manifests, in its highest soaring,the most advanced socialtendencies; it is the forerunner andthe revealer. Therefore to knowwhether art worthily fulfils itsproper mission as initiator, whetherthe artist is truly avant garde, onemust know where Humanity isgoing, know what the destiny ofthe human race is…”Laverdant “De la mission de l’art et du roledes artistes” 1845Quoted in Linda Nochlin The Invention ofthe Avant Garde in “The Politics of Vision”pg. 2
Key Features of the Modernist Avant Garde• Avant Garde art should be above, beyond, distinct from the academy and market. The symbolic embodiment of arts freedom. An alternative and antidote to the commercial, managerial ‘spirit’ of capitalism.• SHOCK AND TRANSGRESSION• The power of the ‘new’. Permanent revolution. Overthrowing the tyranny of tradition.
Key Features of the Modernist Avant Garde Transgression and Critique• Socially, morally, sexually transgressive• (Politically) critical of the status quo• Avant gardist work expresses a sense of alienation from the norms of society - explicitly and implicitly advocating a social, political revolution as well as an artistic one.• The avant gardist is viewed as an outsider, a rebel, a martyr
Key Features of the Modernist Avant Garde• Questions what is permissible as art• Focuses on subject matter and material previously ignored as ignoble, base, vulgar or banal• Asserts that this trash or kitsch possesses aesthetic and intellectual value
Key Features of the Modernist Avant Garde The paradox of avant gardism..new forms for new audiences?• “The approval of the public is to be avoided like the plague” Andre Breton
Key Features of the Modernist Avant Garde• Opposition and absorption.• The radical is domesticated.
Changes to the Avant Garde The Loss of the ‘Enemy’ The death of the bourgeois - post 45• The Sociologist Max Weber defined the bourgeois as a social class with its own sense of collective identity, characteristic moral codes and a set cultural habitus. Their culture was premised on a sense of propriety and morality.• The wide ranging social changes that occurred post Second World War radical altered the power and position of this class.
Changes to the Avant GardeThe birth of the culture industry - the start of a cultural cold war• The old enemies and old certainties of avant gardist work were threatened by the rapid growth of popular culture post 45.• For many self professed avant gardists popular, mass or kitsch was the new enemy
The cultural apocalypse“Our culture, on its lowerand popular levels, hasplumbed abysses ofvulgarity and falsehoodunknown in the discoverablepast; not in Rome, not in theFar east or anywhere hasdaily life undergone suchrapid and radical change asit has in the West in the lastcentury and half” “Pop was slowing to a halt..sufﬁce to say that it goesClement Greenberg ‘ down like candy...it’s not bad art,The Plight of Culture’ but art on a low level, and fun on a low level too.” Clement Greenberg quoted in Brandon Taylor ‘Art of Today’
Avant garde practice “no merchant trades in my soul”• Performance• Video• Installation• Feminist• Conceptual• Political• Anti Aesthetic
Martha Rosler“The Bowery: In Two InadequateDescriptive Systems (detail) 1974-75
POSTMODERN AVANT GARDISM IN THE 1980’S“A zeitgeist of cynicism” David Hopkins
Death of the avant garde?All art was reduced to the level of a commodity. There was no distance or alternative space for the kind of critical, oppositional ‘alternative’ position modernist avant gardists had adopted.From resistance to complicity. Haim Steinbach Untitled (3 drinking containers), 1992 plastic, laminated wood shelf with objects 21 x 23 x 7 cm
From resistance to complicity -the neo avant garde Haim Steinbach pink accent 2, 1987. Two “schizoid” rubber masks, two chrome trash receptacles, and four “Alessi” tea kettles on chrome, aluminum and wood shelf. Milwaukee Art Museum, Purchase, with funds from Marianne and Sheldon B. Lubar, Vicki andAllan McCollum Allen Samson, and Dr. and Mrs. James Stadler.
The Anti Avant Gardist? - Reasons to be Cheerful Part 1Bravo Bravo - baiting the art worldAn ex wall street brokerKoons actively sought toprovoke a kind of moralqueasiness and repulsionamongst the art worldintelligentsia. In his personae, hisunapologetic embrace of selfpromotion, his relaxed attitude toopenly discussing money (theelephant in the room for the liberal,politically correct component of theart world) and his dedication toopening up the Pandora’s box oftaste and class, he ‘succeeded’ inprovoking the kind of shock,irritation and disgust typical of the‘modernist’ avant gardist.
The Anti Avant Gardist? Reasons to be Cheerful part 2 No Irony (?)• While the majority of his contemporaries used or appropriated objects from consumer culture in an ironic, critical reflection of the soullessness of consumer culture, Koons openly stated he chose figures like Popples because he had a deep affection for them - because he responded to them -because he ‘loved them’.
"I like the things that I like, I likecolour, and I like materialism and Ilike seductiveness. And to methese things are absolutelybeautiful. And if I didnt think thesethings were beautiful and theywerent spiritual to me I wouldntwork with them".Jeff Koons
Reasons to be cheerful part 3- Collapsing Critical Distance
“The regimentation of human movement, activity and perception accompaniesthe geometric division of space/ It is governed by the use of time-keepingdevices, the application of standards of normalcy, and the police apparatus. Inthe factory, human movement is made to conform to rigorous spatial andtemporal geometries.”Peter Halley
I find arts ability to guide,direct, and manipulate to beexciting. The only direction Isee for art is as a tool formanipulating it public onevery level - a political tool. Idont know if this places artabove, below or parallel withadvertising. [...] Thetechniques are the same.The audience is the same. Ican never tell the differencebetween them and us. Weare them. I am mass asmuch as I am I.Jeff Koons
Reasons to be Cheerful Part 4Crafty anti modernism“my god it actually looks like he loves these…things!”• In 1986/7 the material execution of Koons work radically changed. While artists such as Haim Steinbach continued to use ready mades, Koons went to extraordinary lengths and costs to have everyday toys and trinkets remade and enlarged by American and Northern European craftsmen .• For the art world this was disturbing - he appeared to be taking this stuff seriously.
The unacceptability of being a FanUp until this point the choicehad seemed straightforwardenough for an artistappropriating popular culture:either you brought suspicionon yourself or you broughtsuspicion on popular culture.In all appropriationist worksuspicion fell squarely on theculture outside art. Despitethe talk of postmodern artexisting in a transformedposition in the culture, therewas still the old prejudice thatart was a superior form ofculture, and therefore the onlycultural form in a privilegedenough position to criticise.
Reasons to be cheerful part 5Talking pleasure in learning to love
• For Koons his love of popular forms was a form of submission, for sure, but a submission that casts him/you neither as victim nor victimiser, but in some way both. To think of Koons relationship to popular culture, as a form of love is to have him entangled in the operations of power, exploitation and seduction to which he is not blind but submits nonetheless. This is the case, anyway, so long as it isnt assumed that love is always sweet, never critical, and can stomach no tension. Koons love for Popples, in this view, neednt mean that he was utterly naive, nor that consumer culture is innocent, presents no danger, or has no unctuous effects. Rather, Koons falls for popular culture despite himself, and despite its subjection of him.
• Koons reimagined or rethought some central ideas about what it might mean to be an avant garde artist in the 1980’s.• He thoroughly dispensed with the idea that artists could or should operate outside the entertainment or culture industry. For Koons arts absorption into entertainment was inevitable and they might as well seize the opportunities that would arise for making art more popular, accessible and visible.• While, as with many classic avant gardists he rejected what he saw as outmoded ideas about how art should be made (i.e solely by the artist) his use of other craftsmen to fabricate his work created art works were the technical and material quality of the finished work was central.• His aesthetic and moral ‘transgressions’, his ‘shocks’ weren’t always typically avant gardist in tone or content. The shocks that accompanied his work arose from his assertion of loving popular culture and loving his wife....
“In placing her favourite classicsfrom the realms of fashion anddesign on a pedestal and elevatingthem to the status of traditionshaping museum exhibits, SylvieFleury emphasises the interactionand interchangeability of art, design,and fashion in terms of social valueand significance in an attitude ofunquestioning acceptance that goesbeyond Jeff Koons still deliberatelyprovocative gesture of translating atrivial object into the material of highart”Renate Wiehager
“The world of luxury, beauty andfashion is a world of utopias, longingshopes and promises, a world thatsuggests the possibility of creating awhole new life, a freely chosen selfdesigned and self determinedexistence. Sylvie Fleury gives shapeand substance to a realm of ourcollective fantasy that was for manycenturies reserved to art and toreligious allegorical art in particular.She presents images of this symbolicexchange to us without the intent toaccuse or defame, simply taking note,leaving it to us to comprehend hervisually and appealing ensembles asenlightening contributions as well.”Peter Wiebel
"While in the UnitedStates culturalinsurgency is associatedwith an anti capitalist,Marxist attitude, in Japanto have success withinthe mass culture as anindependent producer ofworks that hail from thesubculture of animefandom may be anequally valid form ofresistance"Amanda Cruz
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