This paper explores the history of the avant-garde as the major concept for the 20th century art and attempts to find its’ possibility as a valid discourse for the art today.
One of the military terms, “avant-garde” became a cultural metaphor and has been adopted by literatures and art since the 16th century. However it has been defined as the politically critical perspective to society both in concept and practice by Saint-Simon in the 19th century.
In the Theory of the Avant-garde (1974), Peter Büger provided the theoretic hypothesis based upon Saint-Simon and Frankfurt school, in particular, Adorno and Benjamin. He opposes to Greenbergian concept of modernism, especially criticizing the autonomy which excludes art from the society and hinders art from criticizing the Bourgeois society.
Büger categorizes historical avant-garde separating from Modernism; Dada,Surrealism, Russian avant-garde, and Futurism all reject traditional aesthetics and negate autonomy while trying to reconnect social aesthetics and art.
In addition, Bürger was eager to criticize de-modern art movement since 1950s due to repeating historical avant-garde. He blamed it as anti-avant-garde, because it institutionalized and systematized the historical meaning of avant-garde. Regarding Bürger’s neo(post)-avant-garde theory, Hal Foster, rebuked his idea, proposing repetition is not a negative term. He proclaimed that as Freud theorized in “trauma”, repetition makes things recognized. Therefore, neo-avant-garde produces real meaning repeating historic avant-garde; besides, the latter could not be marked in the history without the former. Whatever the differences of their theories, avant-garde is not a historic period or style; nor aims only for the negation of the convention and ideology.
Even though avant-garde is regarded as the best terminology for framing something new, Rosalind Krauss, Hal Foster, and Jacques Derrida doubt if there is anything new in the history of art. It is semiotic false if there is perfect newness. In this perspective,178“newness” is never been satisfied. Avant-garde, related to the newness, could not be grouped based upon its political or formal characteristics.
In this circumstance, I suggests, avant-garde is still valid for individual experience for something special and meaningful. For example, the Swiss architect Peter Zumthor’s Bruder Klaus Field Kapelle, a private chaple in mid-Germany, has been built in unique method with help from the neighbors of the town. Zumthor designed and worked from his inspiration coming from his own memories of every day materials. Setting a fire from inside of the chapel consisting of 120 tree logs below concrete wall, the whole church has unique features and elements, that stimulate the viewers’ senses. Smell,color black, surface textures, and light above, all provoked each viewer’s memories and experiences.
Avant-garde is working expressing something unique and special, which might have aroused a new emotions and ideas. Neither a historic category, nor socio-political critical stands, avant-garde could help to expands artistic (re)production in the 21stcentury.