Critical Subjects – Whatever happened to the avant-garde?
14.07.2014 – ARUP Associates, London
Part of the Critical Subjects summer school series of debates, lectures and panel discussions.
Catherine is a historian.
- The only avant-garde that she knows anything about is the radical design
groups of the late 60’s and early 70’s (SUPERSTUDIO, Archizoom, etc)
- Already in 1978, the architects of the radical period were asking themselves
“whatever happened to the avant-garde?”
- The answer is, they got old.
- Yes we need change, yes we need to make manifestos.
- Radicalism shows that being the avant-garde is not just technological, but
also about engaging your surroundings (eg: Hadid is not avant-garde just
because her office is a technical innovator)
- Whatever avant-garde is ahead of us, it will not be a totalising one like
we had in the past century.
Joseph is an artist, part of the NeoFuturist collective
- Joseph reads a poem from his iPad about the market swallowing the
- “for art to be free it must have no ideology”
- “art must be about the sublime”
Kim is the director of ARUP Associates
- The avant-garde can only be recognised historically.
- Before, manifestos were written to bring people together. Now, with the
internet, everything is watered down.
- Big ideas got co1.opted
- Remembers going to the Sensation exhibition and being excited by it. Now,
looking back, he finds it sad.
- The perfect-ish knowledge that marketers and government have make it very
easy to assimilate the “trending” ideas.
- Compared to his student days, the students he teacher are:
- Less political
- Less angry (negates the need to form an opposition)
- These days, to be critical you need to be poor, rich or paid by the
state. Others can’t afford to be.
- Thesis: the state should allow and support people to be themselves, we are
no longer in a world where we can create Dada due to surveillance.
Michael runs ArtWatch UK
- The avant-garde is nowhere and everywhere
- The avant-garde has been coerced
- Recalls “when attitudes become form”, and Tschimi’s participation to him now
being professor at Columbia and his discussing the fate of the Elgin Marbles
- “avant-gardism, in art and architecture, has always struck me as
anti-historicist”, meaning: naivete and self-interested.
- The central premise of avant-gardism is a paradox, as the future is not
waiting to be discovered in the present.
- Michael explicates how the arts council works in the UK. How and
«avant-garde» operates these days and how it has plunged into the hands of
- The arts council funds artists
- Gallerists buy these state funded artists as guaranteed killer profits
- “Many people can’t realise that avant-gardism does not have to be left
wing. People can’t get it into their heads that the most radical politician
that Britain has had was a woman named Margret Thatcher.”
- We should question the position that artists should be radical. Art does not
exist to change the world, but to enrich it.
- We should not go around labelling non «radical» artists as «reactionary».
Most of the time, the debate is irrelevant.
- Radicalism can be benighted, certainly as much as any reactionary.