avant-garde in America today

avant-garde in America today


Dave Holmander-Bradford

07 January 2017

“Is it still possible to have an avant-garde in America today in a time of post-polemics (Communism Vs. Capitalism), a time in which all artwork is continually co-opted by an advanced economic apparatus that seeks to monetize it ?”(Stopa 2).

In “The Philosophy of Andy Warhol” (From A to B and Back Again) by  Andy Warhol; herein, he begins chapter 10 Atmosphere in typical Warhol memes. “B: I wanted to make a film that showed how sad and lyrical it is for those two old ladies to be living alone in those rooms full of newspapers and cats. A: You shouldn’t make it sad. You should just say, This is how people today are doing things” (Warhol 141).  Thus here is intention to bridge the once what was with the what is par-excellent neo avant-garde of present.

It is not lost without any trepidation that the evolution of art beginning in the mid 19th century to present is a complex mosaic of rhythms and nuances variance the nature of social/political abridgments and competing delineations that contemporary contextual art find itself once again affront greater conflagration verses historical identification. Neo avant-garde face no less challenge than that which is now seeded into referential frame. History and institution will by it’s default nature always critique and attempt to invalidate,  but at this onset let it be said recognized or not avant-garde is always present has been and always will be for as Warhol said, “This is how people do things”.

There are two ways to read a good story. One way is to begin at the beginning and always wonder in great anticipation what will happen next. The other is read the last chapter first and go back to the start to find out how that happen. Both are valid but for our purpose I have chosen to start at the end of which I have already indicated a sense of conclusion.

Hal Foster in referencing The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century concludes that there is a connectedness between all the various period since the onset writing of Marxism and Freud psychoanalysis social/political influence and implications to Duchamp’s Urinal 1917 to avant-garde in the 1910’s and 1920’s collage, assemblage readymade, girding ,monochromatic paintings  and sculpture to an emerging neo avant-garde in the 1950’s and 1960’s likeness in repetitious works attributed to Warhol and others. It is here we see the commingling of devise and the non-autoimmunity of art to the disdain of formalist. However, it is the 1960’s he see this paradigm distinction elusive of the former with it’s Dada but clearly bridging a modernist, structuralism theory and hint division neo-avant-garde I  and more current a present neo-avant-garde II which renders an “epistemological rupture“ (Foster 32).  According to Foster the break with the avant-garde of the earlier part of the century is not total but distinct.

Thus we can understand a rupture inclusive it yielding of an expansion wherein a neo-avant-garde II catapults to the fore.

To the novice who many never have conceived the notion of avant-garde such refines may seem a pointless irony. However, to the more astute the transformative qualities of such understand allow a skilful work of Marx and Freud it’s influence on social/political conventions and the manipulation of medium to serve a more subversive end.

Without distinction “avant-garde”  French for “vanguard” English  commonly used in it transliterated form signifies a broad scope of intentionality with respect to art, culture and society. It is in the expanding limitless boundaries of innovation, creativity, radical intentionality avant-garde finds it place. With no surprise and in this vastly progressive context the avant-garde identified itself with the tensions between Communism and Capitalism.

It is important to note Foster post-polemic rhetoric which my current tendency is to agree specific to neo-avant-garde 1 of the 1950’s and 60’s in which he focuses “no rules governs of these devises:”  (collage and assemblage, readymade, grid, monochrome painting and sculpture) “no one instance is strictly revisionist, radical, or compulsive. … I will focus on returns that aspire to a critical consciousness of both artist conventions and historical conditions. (Foster 1)  He continues with his montage while citing works of Michel Foucault What is an Author 1969 about Marx and Freud itself referencing the writing’s of Louis Althusser and Lacan. To suggest “after years of existentialist reading based on Marx … this is the scientific Marx of an epistemological rupture that has changed politics and philosophy forever” (Foster 2). This is of paramount important distinction to comprehend and must not be lost in the fogginess of ideological/political/socialism. Whereas, psychoanalysis has meant how after following years of adaptation to Marx problem of adaptation and alienation. Lacan’s linguistic reading dynamically challenges the conventions “ to the language  of our unconscious, not the humanist Freud of ego psychologies dominant at the time” (2).

It is Althusser who defines a lost break within Marx while Lacan purports latent connection derived of Freud who’s “analysis of the dream as a process of condensation  and displacement, a rebus metaphor and metonymy” (2) The linguistic dissection implied an implosion of strata but to the contrary the emergence and application (rebirth) of such is a process when contextualized to the avant-garde.

Structuralism relative to culture must be understood in it’s relationship to the larger overarching systems of human condition. Thus, literary structuralism implies a corollary equivalent process applicable to all medium, thought, and intentionality specific to the post modern contemporary conceptual art from which we may deduce the primary work of the post-avant-garde (II) is to destroy every convention of formalism and all prior encumbrances.

Avant-garde of any period is limited to its historical perspective. As with neo-avant-garde I and its formidable reputations by nature of the prior historical perspective of which it became an enlargement of the prior dissecting specific whilst employing new devices. Thus the threading a needle of ideological intentionality from Marx to Duchamp to Pollock and Warhol to the recently part David Hamilton 1933–2016 (Art Net) it is a continuum of strategy contingency forever connecting the past with the present neo-avant-garde II current innovation. Whereas avant-garde of any period is always governed by the devices of historical limitation, enlarged by currents of information, and technological advancements constrained my social/political/economic moray of the present.

What are the hypothetical implication for an American avant-garde, is there avant-garde  present or is it possible to imagine one? In laying down such a premise might we first examine Foster with regards to the historical and then theoretical where he references “two returns in the late 1950’s and 1960’s (as opposed to the New York School version of formalism) that might qualify as radical in the sense sketched above. The readymade of Duchampian dada and contingent structures of Russian constructivism. In perspective “structures …  that reflect both inwardly on material , form … space…” (Foster 4) etc. and “what relationship between moments of appearance and reappearance do they pose?“ (4). Thus, “are postwar moment passive repetitions of prewar moments, or does neo-avant-garde act on the historical avant-garde in way we can only now appreciate?”(4)  It is only in the present, which I suggest to the affirmative are we able to fully  understand his analysis.

Of the historical he suggest returning to Dadaist readymade and constructivist structures. However, these may be distinctly different specifically regarding aesthetics and political intention he draws a direct linkage because each source “bourgeon principle of autonomous art and expressive art” (4) Thus, this offered North American artist of the neo-avant-garde I an alternative to the more compelling modernist movement still favoring a formalistic singular medium. It is however, the vast majority of artist of the period cling largely attached to modernistic model dominant still embellished in formalist structure of the past as so noted by “Clement Greenberg and Michel Fried” (4) .

Much was centered on “intrinsic autonomy … pledged to ideals of significant form and pure optimality” (4) yet it is the very nature of neo-avant-garde 1 challenge these conventions.

It is in the theoretical wherein advancement pure neo-avant-garde 1 set a stage from which neo-avant-garde 2 will be realized of the present. Russian constructivism one example given to its radical social/political nature base in a revolutionary society conjugates the materialist nature of art repositioning from mundane space-time etc, to social awareness and self attentiveness. We should identify this friction as a continuum ever present in any avant-garde cognate of it’s historical character and attack on institutions and museum. Pre-war and post-war avant-garde influence is inseparable and set the parameter for a clearly American avant-garde of which is earnestly intent to distinguish it own self-identity. Much could be said on the complex and various influences from Burger’s three stage development rooted in Marxism connection of object and understand to the intentionality of greater study in theory process developed throughout neo-avant-garde 1 within the advent of master of fine art degrees.

Looking beyond this to our current condition neo-avant-garde 2 what is the current condition of American art in general versa it’s diversity and economic considerations.

In evaluating the present condition one cannot ignore the very question why we make art and to what is it purposes. Sadly, but true, while many young artist see creating art for the noblest reasons economic fact to sustain a practicable viability often impact decision and career direction. One such outlook from a blogger suggest the following bleak compendium in an article title: The Future of Art in America.

Is your book not selling? Make it about Batman. Having a hard time getting people to go and seeyour band? Make every song about Scooby-Doo. Need extra cash for painting supplies? Paintsomething where you have Mario and Luigi driving KITT, from Knight Rider, off a cliff as anhomage to Thelma and Louise. The more popular references you have the better your art becomes!Art often reflects the society in which it was created and what better reflects our society than anendless mash-up of popular culture? Nothing.

The best way to make it as an artist is to combine two popular characters into one thoughtless andlazy abomination that the public will go wild over. As we are now a nation of perpetual children,you can literally convince other adults that your nerd core rap about DuckTales is high art worthpaying for. Art that appeals to the artist or offers some sort of introspection is a financial non-starter, but inject some nostalgia and you’ve got yourself a sale. If you’re asking yourself why, it’s because every lonely thirty-two year old with a soul-crushing job will shell out twenty bucks for something that reminds them of a time when they still had an imagination. (You Monsters are People)

One need not consider a single blogger’s negative opinion as a comprehensive summary and analysis of the current North American art scene. But it does speak rightly or wrongly to a prevailing attitude which many in the general populous subscribe. What is known in to current market environment are the following observations. First, that for most artists irrespective weather subscribing to a formalist tradition or contemporary conceptual or one of a thousand other variations the old model of distribution through a host of galleries and local showing it is an outdated solo endeavor. Artist business models must include a constant engagement in personal website, social media and plethora technological outlet from bogging to artist webs where there work is banked in addition to professional net working and the usual artist association. So it must be for the active artist self-promotion as Euripides said, “Leave no stone unturned”(Euripides)

A second consideration is Kitsch which is mass-produced economical art using popular or cultural icons. The term coined in the 19th century with aesthetics that favors a sentimentality. Critics consider it to be largely melodramatic.

However, it has never held broad critical review but has found wide appeal to the public because of its contemporaneous  pop-culture style, sometimes-comical subject matter and often social/political messaging.

A third and final consideration is the advent of  major commercial art fairs and conventions which draw national and international attention. Such venues offer both expose to audience, collectors and buyer of major works often created purely and intentional without thoughtfulness, intentionality or individuality for such. In addressing the question posed for this discussion, “advanced economic apparatus, system and monetary gain the sole intent purpose of art. Is that the goal of artist today..?” (Stopa)  Sadly, in many way for some it is, however, this may speak to a deeper issue what make an artist. That is not the purpose of this talk but could be good fodder for future consideration.

So it is in finality of the current conversation we should ask neo-avant-garde two present be define and so identify on the how so?  It is from here I should launch a compendium and possible suggestion perhaps not previously considered but to do so we obviously look beyond all currently acceptable conventions. Where as neo-avant-garde one in the 1950’s and 1960 has ultimately demanded an institutional reform of art museums in particular was necessitated to under go transformation of its historical model in making “ (Foster 17) new space of critical play and prompted new models of institutional analysis. … “It was previously repressed but now freed from it’s past. Thus for Burger’s point the role of the avant-garde is to destroy the institution of autonomous in order to connect with the real of life and art. It is of the present condition I content that there can be no autonomy if neo-avant-garde is to survive. The avant-garde or neo-avant-garde can only survive in and atmosphere of collaboration of artist production and  reception.

Given the present economy we heed to look closely for it is in the collaboration of other artist one might only come to both recognize and comprehend avant-garde.  In an article written by Ian Wallace in which he cites Lian Gillick  “The question is how to categorize art today in a way that will exceed the contemporary. The inclusiveness of the contemporary is under attack, as this very inclusiveness has helped suppress a critique of what art is and more importantly what comes next. We know what comes next as things stand—more contemporary art … Contemporary art is a useless and counterproductive term, because it pretends that the way something avant-garde looks has to be dependent on the way something avant-garde looked five years ago—after all, if everything is “contemporary” then nothing is. Artists need to try to do things that are really, really different and new“ (Wallace). With example on the cutting edge. Cake and food consumable art has been overlooked as legitimate art form. Such innovation bring into new form styles and variations etc. reasoning why it is so. Installations (specially public) and multi mix media will expand in addition to the expanding roll of digital and technology related art. Specifically as aesthetics continues on a path of deskilling found object sculpture and new medium such as light gradation will find new horizons.

Contemporary Art Does Not Account for That Which Is Taking Place” (2010)



“Khhhhhhh” (2012)


Work Cited

ArtNet  http://www.artnet.com/artists/david-hamilton/  2016 web.

Euripides, “Leave no stone unturned.” – ThinkExist.com


Foster, Hal, The Return of the Real. Cambridge: The MIT Press, Forth printing. 2001. Print.

Stopa, Jason, MFV802: Graduate Seminar II. Syllabus, New Hampshire Institute of Art, 2016. Print.

Wallace, Ian, Art Space.com, Lian Gillick,  2014.


Warhol, Andy, The Philosophy of Andy Warhol. Orlando: Harcourt, 1975. Print.

You Monsters Are People., Blog at WordPress.com. ,The Future of Art In America, 2015,  (Specific author unknown)

The Future Of Art In America

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