The Power of the Avant-Garde

This symposium, held in November 2016, coincided with an exhibition at BOZAR curated by Ulrich Bischoff and entitled ‘The Power of the Avant-Garde’. The exhibition featured work of historical avant-gardists (including Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Kazimir Malevich, Franz Marc, Gino Severini) in dialogue with (and in part handpicked by) more contemporary artists John Baldessari, David Claerbout, Marlène Dumas, Bogomir Ecker, Olafur Eliasson, William Forsythe, William Kentridge, (Louise Lawler), Marcel Odenbach, Roman Signer, Sean Scully, Luc Tuymans, Koen Vermeule, Jeff Wall, and Marijke van Warmerdam.

The question the exhibition sought to explore is also the one MDRN addressed in this one-day symposium: what new perspectives on the arts and practices of the historical avant-gardes can be unlocked by studying their lasting appeal in the later twentieth and early twenty-first century? Put differently: how has the power of the avant-gardes manifested itself in more recent times? Now heavily canonised, futurists, Dadaists, expressionists, surrealists, constructivists and many other vanguardists were once fiercely critical of conventions in art and society. They also redefined the arts, their relations and their functions with vibrant energy. Yet in what ways did that energy continue to circulate? Traditionally, historians of the arts trace the after-effects of the avant-gardes through a succession of post-World-War-II neo-avant-gardes into the upsurge of politicized art in recent decades. Yet what cultural constellations, in the West and beyond, proved particularly beneficial for the energy of the avant-gardes to flare up? In what different fashions did the energy of the avant-gardes manifest itself? What happens when we look beyond the traditional trajectories of avant-gardism historians have carved out? Did the historical avant-gardes’ energy return with equal intensity in all (expanded) art forms? What hitherto less explored aspects of the historical avant-gardes prove of significance from a contemporary point of view? And how, ultimately, does an exploration of these and related questions change our views of the historical avant-gardes?

Featured speakers included Aless Erjavec, Alex Goody, Tania Ørum, Tyrus Miller and John Roberts.