This study focuses on embedding a meaning to the ‘body’ which is one of the major paradigms in art practice, theory and criticism of the 1960’s America. In the Western society, the U.S in particular, this period is also known as the transition era from modernity to post-modernity when extreme socio-cultural changes took place. In the art field, new arts such as Neo-Dada, Happening, Fluxus, Performance, Minimalism and Pop art were born. However, despite their various aspects, they commonly seemed to oppose the oppressive formalist modernism of Abstract Expressionism, and started to be interpreted in relation to the concept of ‘avant-garde’. The avant-garde here is in contrast with Clement Greenberg’s ‘Modernism avant-garde’, contributing to the concept of Europe’s ‘antimodernistic avant-garde’ by promoting the combination of life and art. This is in retaliation to modernism’s aestheticism that tries to establish an art system and separate art from the outside world.
Peter Burger’s ‘neo-avant-garde’ theory classified the art practice that originated in America since Abstract Expressionism as an anti-modernistic avant-garde. Burger named the experimental art that originated in the West in the post-World War II era as ‘neo-avantgarde’and identified it as a repetition of ‘historical avant-garde’, including Dada, Surrealism and Russian Constructivism. This theory describes neo-avant-garde art as a mere superficial imitation of collage, photomontage and ready-made, born to resist formalist modernism by the historical avant-garde, and did not carry on the true will to criticize the system.
However, American art theorists, such as Benjamin Buchloh and Hal Foster, not only accepted the neo-avant-garde concept as a paradigm to analyze American experimental art,but also embedded a positive meaning to avant-garde’s ‘repetition’, and claimed that neoavant-garde must go through the process of repeating the looks of historical avant-garde in order to put avant-garde into real practice.
In alignment to the researcher’s argument mentioned above, this study will try to claim neo-avant-garde as a new type of avant-garde resisting against the changes of art 75institution, which appeared in the transition stage from modernism to post-modernism. A critique to modernism born from modernity which is created by capitalism and the creative destructor of that continuity, neo-avant-garde has the mission of criticizing the institution of art. The historical avant-garde of the past was merely a ‘critique of the conventions of the traditional mediums’ through painting and sculpture, but since the 1950’s when late capitalism took place, neo-avant-gardes came across the issue of art, commodity and spectacle being related, and started to study art institution.
This article thus focuses on presenting ‘body’ as a core resisting strategy of neo-avantgarde towards art institution. In the history of modern art, the body of the artist and the viewer went through exposure and concealment, depending on the era and trend.
Nevertheless, the role and importance of body in the art of historical avant-garde, named by Burger, cannot be emphasized enough. In various historical avant-garde ‘soirees’ and ‘festivals’ of the early 20thcentury, held in Zurich, Paris and Berlin, the body was the subject and object of expression. Their practice tried to overcome the closed system of modernism art medium and integrate art into the part of people’s daily lives. However,one must notice that much of neo-avant-garde art also originates from the actions of the human body. As a global post-war effect, such development took place in a wide variety of areas; from Abstract Expressionism, which is a formalist modernism, to Neo-Dada,Happening, Fluxus, and Judson Dance Theater, which advocates the New Dance.
Based on these facts, the corporeality of historical avant-garde and neo-avant-garde art can be inferred. Thus, this article identifies the ‘body’ as something that appeared in historical avant-garde art but was suppressed by formalist modernism, yet again,was rediscovered and reinterpreted in neo-avant-garde project. In other words, like photomontage and ready-made, neo-avant-garde did not ‘first discover’ the body, but was ‘rediscovered’ as a part of historical avant-garde’s anti-modernism strategy. Moreover, when neo-avant-garde appeared, other avant-garde strategies were already a commodity of a gallery and even absorbed into the popular culture, so the violative value of the aesthetic autonomy of the body, or the meaning it holds as a art institute critique, is all the more valuable.
The aspects of the body as a critique project, clearly showing the distinctive strategic neoavant-garde, was expressed in various ways in art. In other words, going beyond the limited genre called Performance, the aspects of body has been expressed in phenomenological awareness of the viewer towards the piece in Minimalism, the excessive state of illusionism in Op art that causes the existence of visual and sense of touch, as well as the creation 76of subculture style of the body consumed in Pop art. And in such art, the body goes beyond mere actions, and expands into a place itself allowing the subject to experience the world. Also, the neo-avant-garde subject that possess the body, which communicates with the outside world, developed from ‘performative body’ to ‘activist body’. As a result,the resistance went beyond the boundary of art and became a direct critique towards the social issue. In other words, neo-avant-garde’s art institution critique expanded to the social institution. This proves that the characteristic of American art in the 1960’s, which intervenes in politics, was based on the body.
Thus, the body, which is both a natural flesh and a cultural artificial product, allowed the negative expression towards capitalism through the body and at the same time, made the human destiny in consumerism inevitable. Hence, the subject of neo-avant-garde can be said an embodied selfhood, which is a body/self as a symbolic location that has the properties of late capitalistic society however resisting it. Artists back then obtained this new body/self structure and responded towards the rapidly changing environment.
In conclusion, the transition of modernism to post-modernism, which can be found in American art of the 1960’s, was contributed by rediscovering the ‘body’ which is an ‘internal exterior’ that always existed in modernism. In the era of unstable modernism culture, it was neo-avant-garde which played an important role of transferring the mission, long carried out by the spirit in the history of modernity, to the body.