Ralph Ginzburg launched the magazine Avant Garde in January 1968, with a view to combining art and politics. As the year unfolded, radical politics and avant garde art seemed to go hand-in-hand. In 2008 London’s South Bank Centre hosted an exhibition of the street posters of Paris from May 68. This innovative, political work took its inspiration from the avant garde traditions of the 19th century Parisian Salon des Refusés, and later experimental art that pushed the boundaries of ‘bourgeois’ form.
40 years on, many artists are seen as cutting-edge and politically radical, but the context has changed. Modernism has been usurped by postmodernism, and the idea of subverting form is so commonplace that many art-lovers long for assured technique. Meanwhile, culture mandarins practically demand the arts demonstrate their social relevance, and ‘bourgeois’ institutions eschew ‘art for art’s sake’, preferring the politically-oriented work of Mark Wallinger or Banksy.
Has avant garde art gone mainstream? If so, has it lost its edge? What does it mean for art to be political at a time when politics itself is so uninspiring? Some critics condemn what they see as the vacuousness of ever more outlandish attempts to create art sensation for the sake of it. Are they simply retreating to nostalgia for past excellence, or should we demand art that is genuinely fresh and innovative, whether it’s political or not? What should avant garde art look like in 2008?
architect; writer; Middle East commentator; co-author, Manifesto: Towards a New Humanism in Architecture
artist; artist in residence, Metal; founding member PVA MediaLab
british artist; curator, ‘Mashups, post pop fragments and detournements’, Kowalsky Gallery, London; member, Creators Council for the Design and Artists Copyright society.
novelist; books reviewer for The Tablet; chairman, Eric & Salome Estorick Foundation Trustees, Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, best known for its outstanding core of Futurist works
senior editor, ArtReview
artist, actor and founder, The Neo-Futurist Collective.
|Professor Joe Kerr
head of Department of Critical & Historical Studies. RCA; author, London from Punk to Blair; bus driver
|Dr Shirley Dent
communications specialist (currently working with the British Veterinary Association media team); editor, tlfw.co.uk; author, Radical Blake
Artist's 7th Avenue 'shop' installation has customers and art world surprised.Arifa Akbar, Independent, 10 October 2008
Taking as its point of departure the major new exhibition Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, this study-day looks at utopian beliefs in the power of art and culture to transform society, and explores differing approaches to the concept of a radical artTate Modern, 8 March 2008
A lack of substance in today's pop culture means it's time for our art to explore what happened in the decade of Thatcher, Madonna and Cyndi Lauper.Stuart Semple, Guardian Art & Design Blog, 11 October 2007
True art, which is not content to play variations on ready-made models but rather insists on expressing the inner needs of man and mankind in its time--true art is unable not to be revolutionary, not to aspire to a complete and radical reconstruction of society.Andre Breton and Leon Trotsky, Generation Online, 1938
The transformation of the superstructure, which takes place far more slowly than that of the substructure, has taken more than half a century to manifest in all areas of culture the change in the conditions of production. Only today can it be indicated what form this has taken.Walter Benjamin, Marxists.org, 1936