Monday, July 11, 2005

After the avant-garde (?)

A recent article by Margo Jefferson in the NYTimes (free subscription required) about the avant-garde (focusing on theater and the performing arts) is far from what I would call revolutionary or even very useful for someone already acquainted with contemporary art languages, at least if we read it on its basic level. It does, however, show how the "general public" is being introduced to more experimental forms of expression.
It's interesting too see how Jefferson sees - and shows, thus co-constructing - the "new art": she keeps going back to the idea that it's something one has to get used to, a world worth discovering, but not easy to enter. Pretty obvious... but. The spectators are to "suspend judgement", as the artists "are experimenting" and we are to do it with them. But Jefferson admits,
Avant-gardes get middle-aged; they become the establishment. When one goes to the Brooklyn Academy of Music, for instance, one is likely to see the work of artists who belonged to the avant-gardes of the 1960's and 70's and early 80's. Some are perfecting what they've already done. A few keep on experimenting, while some are being better paid to calcify than they ever were to innovate.
And that is a problem. Because avant-garde today, as Jefferson rightly puts it,
is not a designated tribe of rebel outsiders anymore. It is a set of tools and practices; certain styles and attitudes.
Which should be a good reason to redifine experimenting and change the way we see it (and criteria for discovering it). It is far from the idea of people coming up with completely new, unexpected and revolutionary worlds. It is much more about using the current conventions, habits, paradigms, to their best use, exploring how far they take us. And that trip is pretty difficult to execute if we don't understand those paradigms (the darned question of competence, irritating, but true?). But once we do, I see no reason to suspend judgement altogether, other than belonging to a generation that considered criticism to be a horrible idea and "gave itself away". The problem is, the Robert Wilsons and Laurie Andersons (two names cited in the article) are really far from anything one could call innovative today: their art, good as it may be, has been pretty much the same for a long time. And frankly, I see no reason for going on with the suspended judgement, especially, since this attitude hasn't really helped much in introducing the "avant-garde" to main-stream culture. Any ideas about that?
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2 comments:

Hans said...

...yes, thats a real problem you picked...
The problem of many Young artists today, wich like the New Leipzig School choose instead of polarization, better the Good old way, wich is boring at least to me, very fast.
Could a Joseph Beuys today be possible ?

blankvision said...

Those artists who continually seek to 'challenge' are mostly not taken up and promoted but rather raped of their work by their teaching staff or those with access to international level platforms.

Many who are taken up early in their careers, or directly from (universities) / former artschools are one trick ponies or limited by their lack of external experience.

Experience, knowledge or depth of practice is almost to be eschewed or despised on many levels, apart from those technically adroit realist artists who defy the global pomo dictatorship.

Promotion of any 'new' form is defined by those with enough financial might to purchase an artist's entire body of work (SAATCHI) and then dispose of such work when its shelf life has passed. Style dictators with little or no comprehension or regard for any one artist's ideas but rather whether the work'fits' within some pseudo conceptual framework eg. New Neurotic Realism.

The rise of bio-art within university environments emphasises the return of 'academic' art, where such work readily fits within University funding research criteria. Such a position is contrary to any (previous nostalgic) notion of 'the avant garde'. As if we wait for some 'hero' when the author died long ago, but did they?

Perhaps all theory is grey (still).
with apologies to GOETHE.

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