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For other uses, see Avant-garde (disambiguation).

economic reform.[3]
The avant-garde (from French, advance guard or

1 Theories

Marcel Duchamp, Fountain, 1917.


The Love of Zero, a 1927 lm by Robert Florey

Photograph by Alfred

vanguard, literally fore-guard)[1] are people or works

Several writers have attempted, with limited success, to
that are experimental or innovative, particularly with re- map the parameters of avant-garde activity. The Italian
spect to art, culture, and politics.
essayist Renato Poggioli provides one of the best-known
The avant-garde pushes the boundaries of what is ac- analyses of vanguardism as a cultural phenomenon in his
cepted as the norm or the status quo, primarily in 1962 book Teoria dell'arte d'avanguardia (The Theory
the cultural realm. The avant-garde is considered by of the Avant-Garde). Surveying the historical, social,
some to be a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from psychological and philosophical aspects of vanguardism,
postmodernism. Many artists have aligned themselves Poggioli reaches beyond individual instances of art, powith the avant-garde movement and still continue to do etry, and music to show that vanguardists may share cerso, tracing a history from Dada through the Situationists tain ideals or values which manifest themselves in the
to postmodern artists such as the Language poets around non-conformist lifestyles they adopt; he sees vanguard
culture as a variety or subcategory of Bohemianism.[4]
The avant-garde also promotes radical social reforms. It Other authors have attempted both to clarify and to exwas this meaning that was evoked by the Saint Simo- tend Poggiolis study. The German literary critic Peter
nian Olinde Rodrigues in his essay L'artiste, le savant Brgers Theory of the Avant-Garde (1974) looks at the
et l'industriel (The artist, the scientist and the indus- Establishment's embrace of socially critical works of art
trialist, 1825), which contains the rst recorded use of and suggests that in complicity with capitalism, art as an
neutralizes the political content of the individavant-garde in its now customary sense: there, Ro- institution [5]
drigues calls on artists to serve as [the peoples] avantgarde, insisting that the power of the arts is indeed the Brgers essay also greatly inuenced the work of conmost immediate and fastest way to social, political and temporary American art-historians such as the German


Benjamin H. D. Buchloh (born 1941), while older critics like Brger continue to view the postwar neo-avantgarde as the empty recycling of forms and strategies from
the rst two decades of the twentieth century, others
like Clement Greenberg (19091994) view it, more positively, as a new articulation of the specic conditions of
cultural production in the postwar period. Buchloh, in the
collection of essays Neo-avantgarde and Culture Industry (2000) critically argues for a dialectical approach to
these positions.[6] Subsequent criticism theorized the limitations of these approaches, noting their circumscribed
areas of analysis, including Eurocentric, chauvinist, and
genre-specic denitions.[7]
Max Horkheimer (front left), Theodor Adorno (front right),
and Jrgen Habermas in the background, right, in 1965 at
Heidelberg, West Germany.

Relation to mainstream society

See also: Media culture and Spectacle (critical theory)

The concept of avant-garde refers primarily to artists,
writers, composers and thinkers whose work is opposed
to mainstream cultural values and often has a trenchant
social or political edge. Many writers, critics and theorists made assertions about vanguard culture during the
formative years of modernism, although the initial denitive statement on the avant-garde was the essay AvantGarde and Kitsch by New York art critic Clement Greenberg, published in Partisan Review in 1939.[8] As the essays title suggests, Greenberg argued that vanguard culture has historically been opposed to high or mainstream culture, and that it has also rejected the articially synthesized mass culture that has been produced by
industrialization. Each of these media is a direct product
of Capitalism they are all now substantial industries
and as such they are driven by the same prot-xated
motives of other sectors of manufacturing, not the ideals
of true art. For Greenberg, these forms were therefore
kitsch: phony, faked or mechanical culture, which often
pretended to be more than they were by using formal devices stolen from vanguard culture. For instance, during
the 1930s the advertising industry was quick to take visual mannerisms from surrealism, but this does not mean
that 1930s advertising photographs are truly surreal. On
the contrary, they express a style without underlying substance. In this sense Greenberg carefully distinguished
true avant-garde creativity from the market-driven fashion change and supercial stylistic innovation that are
sometimes used to claim privileged status for these manufactured forms of the new consumer culture.

coined the term "mass culture" to indicate that this bogus culture is constantly being manufactured by a newly
emerged culture industry (comprising commercial publishing houses, the movie industry, the record industry,
and the electronic media).[10] They also pointed out that
the rise of this industry meant that artistic excellence was
displaced by sales gures as a measure of worth: a novel,
for example, was judged meritorious solely on whether it
became a best-seller, music succumbed to ratings charts
and to the blunt commercial logic of the Gold disc. In
this way the autonomous artistic merit so dear to the vanguardist was abandoned and sales increasingly became
the measure, and justication, of everything. Consumer
culture now ruled.
The avant-gardes co-option by the global capitalist market, by neoliberal economies, and by what Guy Debord
called The Society of the Spectacle, have made contemporary critics speculate on the possibility of a meaningful avant-garde today. Paul Manns Theory-Death of
the Avant-Garde demonstrates how completely the avantgarde is embedded within institutional structures today, a
thought also pursued by Richard Schechner in his analyses of avant-garde performance.[11]
Despite the central arguments of Greenberg, Adorno and
others, various sectors of the mainstream culture industry have co-opted and misapplied the term avant-garde
since the 1960s, chiey as a marketing tool to publicise
popular music and commercial cinema. It has become
common to describe successful rock musicians and celebrated lm-makers as avant-garde, the very word having been stripped of its proper meaning. Noting this important conceptual shift, major contemporary theorists
such as Matei Calinescu in Five Faces of Modernity: Modernism, Avant-garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism
(1987), and Hans Bertens in The Idea of the Postmodern:
A History (1995), have suggested that this is a sign our
culture has entered a new post-modern age, when the former modernist ways of thinking and behaving have been
rendered redundant.[12]

Various members of the Frankfurt School argued similar views: thus Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer
in their essay The Culture Industry: Enlightenment as
Mass-Deception (1944), and also Walter Benjamin in
his highly inuential "The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction" (1936).[9] Where Greenberg
used the German word kitsch to describe the antithesis
of avant-garde culture, members of the Frankfurt School Nevertheless, the most incisive critique of vanguardism

as against the views of mainstream society was oered
by the New York critic Harold Rosenberg in the late
1960s.[13] Trying to strike a balance between the insights
of Renato Poggioli and the claims of Clement Greenberg, Rosenberg suggested that from the mid-1960s onward progressive culture ceased to fulll its former adversarial role. Since then it has been anked by what he
called avant-garde ghosts to the one side, and a changing mass culture on the other, both of which it interacts
with to varying degrees. This has seen culture become,
in his words, a profession one of whose aspects is the
pretense of overthrowing it.[14]



Main article: Avant-garde music

Whereas the avant-garde has a signicant history in 20thcentury music, it is more pronounced in theatre and performance art, and often in conjunction with music and
sound design innovations, as well as developments in visual media design. There are movements in theatre history that are characterized by their contributions to the
avant-garde traditions in both the United States and Europe. Among these are Fluxus, Happenings, and NeoDada.

4 Avant-garde art movements

Abstract expressionism
Angry Penguins
Aleatoric music
Asemic writing
Cinema pur

Avant-garde in music can refer to any form of music

working within traditional structures while seeking to
breach boundaries in some manner.[15] The term is used
loosely to describe the work of any musicians who radically depart from tradition altogether.[16] By this definition, some avant-garde composers of the 20th century include Arnold Schoenberg,[17] Charles Ives,[18] Igor
Stravinsky,[17] Anton Webern,[19] George Antheil (in
his earliest works only), Alban Berg,[19] Henry Cowell (in his earliest works), Philip Glass, Harry Partch,
John Cage, Morton Feldman, Richard Strauss (in his
earliest work),[20] Karlheinz Stockhausen,[21] Edgard
Varse, and Iannis Xenakis.[17] Although most avantgarde composers have been men, this is not exclusively
the case. Women avant-gardists include Pauline Oliveros, Diamanda Gals, Meredith Monk, and Laurie Anderson.[22]

Conceptual art
De Stijl
Drop Art
Epic theater

There is another denition of Avant-gardism that distinguishes it from modernism": Peter Brger, for example, says avant-gardism rejects the institution of art
and challenges social and artistic values, and so necessarily involves political, social, and cultural factors.[23] According to the composer and musicologist Larry Sitsky,
modernist composers from the early 20th century who
do not qualify as avant-gardists include Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern, and Igor Stravinsky; later modernist
composers who do not fall into the category of avantgardists include Elliott Carter, Milton Babbitt, Gyrgy
Ligeti, Witold Lutosawski, and Luciano Berio, since
their modernism was not conceived for the purpose of
goading an audience.[24]





Main article: Experimental theatre

Hungry generation

Land art


5 See also

Les Nabis

Avant-garde Wikipedia book

Lyrical Abstraction


Mail art


Minimal art

Experimental lm

Musique concrte

Experimental literature
Experimental music
Experimental theatre


L'enfant terrible


List of avant-garde artists

Neue Slowenische Kunst



Outsider art
Russian avant-garde

Pop art
Prakalpana Movement
Theatre of Cruelty
Universalismo Constructivo
Viennese Actionism

6 References
[1] Avant-garde denitions. Lexico Publishing Group, LLC. Retrieved 2007-03-14.
[2] UBU Web List of artists from Dada to the present day
aligning themselves with the avant-garde
[3] Calinescu, Matei (1987). The Five Faces of Modernity:
Modernism, Avant-Garde, Decadence, Kitsch, Postmodernism. Duke University Press.
[4] Poggioli, Renato (1981). The Theory of the Avant-Garde.
Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. ISBN 0-67488216-4., translated from the Italian by Gerald Fitzgerald,
2nd ed.
[5] Brger, Peter (1974). Theorie der Avantgarde. Suhrkamp
Verlag. English translation (University of Minnesota
Press) 1984: 90.
[6] Buchloh, Benjamin (2001). Neo-avantgarde and Culture
Industry: Essays on European and American Art from
1955 to 1975. MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-02454-3.
[7] Harding, James M. Cutting Performances: Collage
Events, Feminist Artists, and the American Avant-Garde.
University of Michigan, 2010.
[8] Avant-Garde and Kitsch
[9] The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction
by Walter Benjamin
[10] Theodor W. Adorno (1963), "Culture Industry Reconsidered".
[11] Richard Schechner, The Conservative Avant-Garde.
New Literary History 41.4 (Autumn 2010): 895913.

[12] Calinescu 1987,; Bertens 1995.

[13] Rosenberg, Harold (1983). The De-Denition of Art: Action Art to Pop to Earthworks. Chicago University Press.
ISBN 0-226-72673-8. Originally published: New York:
Horizon Press, 1972; reprinted New York: Collier Books,

Bazin, Germain. 1969. The Avant-garde in Painting. New York: Simon and Schuster. ISBN 0-67120422-X
Berg, Hubert van den, and Walter Fhnders (eds.).
2009. Metzler Lexikon Avantgarde. Stuttgart: Metzler. ISBN 3-476-01866-0 (German)

[14] Dickie, George (SummerFall 1975). Kamarck, Edward

(ed.), ed. Symposium on Marxist aesthetic thought:
commentary on the papers by Rudich, San Juan, and
Morawski. Arts in society: art and social experience: our
changing outlook on culture 12 (2): 232.

Crane, Diana. 1987. The Transformation of the

Avant-garde: The New York Art World, 19401985.
Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-22611789-8

[15] David Nicholls (ed.), The Cambridge History of American

Music (Cambridge and New York: Cambridge University
Press, 1998), 12224. ISBN 0-521-45429-8 ISBN 9780-521-54554-9

Daly, Selina, and Monica Insinga (eds.). 2013. The

European Avant-garde: Text and Image. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars. ISBN 9781443840545.

[16] Jim Samson, Avant garde, The New Grove Dictionary

of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley
Sadie and John Tyrrell (London: Macmillan Publishers,

Harding, James M., and John Rouse, eds. Not the

Other Avant-Garde: The Transnational Foundations
of Avant-Garde Performance. University of Michigan, 2006.

[17] Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century AvantGarde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.

Kostelanetz, Richard, and H. R. Brittain. 2000.

A Dictionary of the Avant-Gardes, second edition.
New York: Schirmer Books. ISBN 0-02-8653793. Paperback edition 2001, New York: Routledge.
ISBN 0-415-93764-7 (pbk.)

[18] Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century AvantGarde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), 222. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
[19] Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century AvantGarde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), 50. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.
[20] Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century AvantGarde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xiiixiv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.

Kramer, Hilton. 1973. The Age of the Avant-garde;

An Art Chronicle of 19561972. New York: Farrar,
Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-10238-4
Lger, Marc James. 2014. The Idea of the Avant
GardeAnd What It Means Today. Manchester:
Manchester University Press.

[21] Elliot Schwartz, Barney Childs, and James Fox, Contemporary Composers on Contemporary Music (New York:
Da Capo Press, 1998), 379. ISBN 0-306-80819-6

Maerhofer, John W. 2009. Rethinking the Vanguard: Aesthetic and Political Positions in the Modernist Debate, 1917-1962. Newcastle upon Tyne:
Cambridge Scholars Press. ISBN 1-4438-1135-1

[22] Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century AvantGarde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xvii. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.

Mann, Paul. The Theory-Death of the Avant-Garde.

Indiana University Press, 1991.

[23] Jim Samson, Avant garde, Grove Music Online.

[24] Larry Sitsky, Music of the Twentieth-Century AvantGarde: A Biocritical Sourcebook (Westport, Conn: Greenwood Press, 2002), xv. ISBN 0-313-29689-8.

Further reading
Barron, Stephanie, and Maurice Tuchman. 1980.
The Avant-garde in Russia, 19101930: New Perspectives: Los Angeles County Museum of Art [and]
Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D. C. Los Angeles,
CA: Los Angeles County Museum of Art ISBN 087587-095-3 (pbk.); Cambridge, MA: Distributed
by the MIT Press ISBN 0-262-20040-6 (pbk.)

Novero, Cecilia. 2010. Antidiets of the AvantGarde: From Futurist Cooking to Eat Art. (University of Minnesota Press)
Pronko, Leonard Cabell. 1962. Avant-garde:
The Experimental Theater in France. Berkeley:
University of California Press.
Schechner, Richard. The Five Avant-Gardes or ...
[and] ... or None?" The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader, 2nd ed., ed. Michael Huxley and
Noel Witts (New York and London: Routledge,
Schmidt-Burkhardt, Astrit. 2005. Stammbume
der Kunst: Zur Genealogie der Avantgarde. Berlin
Akademie Verlag. ISBN 3-05-004066-1 [online
version is available]

Sell, Mike. The Avant-Garde: Race, Religion, War.
Seagull Books, 2011.
Shishanov, V. A. 2007. Vitebskii muzei sovremennogo iskusstva: istoriia sozdaniia i kollektsii
(19181941). Minsk: Medisont. ISBN 978-9856530-68-8 Online edition (Russian)

External links
The Blue Mountain Project, Historic Avant-Garde
Periodicals for Digital Research, Princeton University Library


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