the neo avant-garde lecture 21.11.2016

(video lecture by Graham Witham)


Paul Cézanne, Bathers, 1898-1905, oil on canvas  210.5 x 250.8 cm., [Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, USA]

Hermann Nitsch 4. Aktion 1963 (performance)

Some points on this lecture

  • The avant-garde as the spread of new social ideas – used as a political way of communicating new ideas.
  • Works of Cézanne (a work can be radical in terms of technique) and Courbet
  • Surrealism/ objects/ challenging conventional forms
  • Henri Matisse / Red Room/ an aesthetic end/ an art that allows you to escape/ Matisse goes the other way than avant-garde, away from social meanings.
  • Jackson Pollock/ art is about painting/ Rothko also applies this/ no subject to look at
  • Greenberg/ art should be gallery based/ high art should be detached from everything else / from art that we have in our everyday life – this is kitsch
  • Neo avant-garde become critical/ not art for art sake/ aims at saying something
  • There are examples where the work starts as a social meaning which ends up as a finished object exhibited in art galleries
  • Challenging the institutions of art
  • The artists is the art
  • Destruction can be creative
  • Sometimes it is difficult to make a connection of an artwork we see to socio-political issues, however it shocks, challenges the systems that support
  • Do you approach an art work differently when exhibited in a gallery

What caught my attention was the differences in the approach followed by Cézanne and that of the neo avant-garde artists in communicating the reality of their time. On the one hand we have Cézanne at the end of the 19th century acknowledging the importance of impressionism as a movement and the significance of the impressionists’ work. However, what Cézanne aimed was to create a set of codes, to impose boundaries and limitations on impressionist work so as to make it art worth exhibited in museums. Maybe in other words he was trying to advise his contemporaries not to rush too much, to take some time to reflect and not trying to grasp the image at a glimpse of the eye.  Through his radical technique (reference to internal light, unification of planes, binocular vision, elimination of depth), which he applied to traditional subjects like the landscape, still life and the nude, he aimed in creating a substance and a solid basis for the impressionism art making. He used his technique as the medium to communicate the way he experienced the contemporary world of his time, his work did not shock the viewer (as Eduard Manet’s Olympia).  On the other hand the neo avant-garde artists’ work, either intentionally or not, shocks the viewer. Unlike Cézanne, the neo avant-garde artists do not seem to take a step back to reflect and there are no boundaries or limitations in their work. Maybe their pace can be compared to that of the impressionists’: they are both trying to keep up with their time and in essence to compete with industrial and technological developments. The neo avant-garde work deviates from the significance of representing an object and in effect buying an object. However what can be characterized as unorthodox is the fact that although the neo avant-garde artists do not intent their work to be exhibited, the significance to their work is attributed once exhibited. Exhibition as a reference not only to a conventional gallery space but in a sense that the exhibition of any kind contributes to the work ceasing to be ephemeral.


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