The End of the Avant Garde

For Europe, the nineteenth century was an age of radical change. As science and technology challenged old views, political revolution challenged the old dominations of church and monarchy with the upheaval of the French Revolution of 1789, a sequence of revolution, counter-revolutions, and civil wars in Europe and America continued the assault upon established power. In a world that was experiencing a population explosion of extreme magnitude, revolution followed revolution, including the industrial revolution in which modern ideas of nationalism were born. This was an era in which patriotism and imperialism existed side by side.

Although modern sculpture and architecture are reckoned to have emerged at the end of the nineteenth century, the beginnings of modern painting can be located earlier. The date perhaps most commonly identified as marking the birth of modern art is 1863, the year that Edouard Manet exhibited his painting Le dejeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refuses in Paris. Earlier dates have also been attributed to 1855, the year Gustave Courbet exhibited The Artist’s Studio and 1784. the year Jacques-Louis David completed his painting The Oath of the Horatii. Which one is right? Well, none of them are “wrong”. Here, it was simply a case of “1880” working out well, for me, in terms of organization. ) For simplicity’s sake, let’s just say that Modern Art began in the 19th-century, and ran through a whole slew of “-isms” up until the end of the 1960’s. Regardless of chosen starting date, the crucial factor is that Modern Art means: “The point at which artists (1) felt free to trust their inner visions, (2) express those visions in their work, (3) use Real Life (social issues and images from modern life) as a source of subject matter and (4) experiment and innovate as often as possible.

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The single most important thing one need remember about Modern Art is that it is entirely different from Contemporary Art. Modern Art began around the time of the Impressionist and Contemporary Art began in the 1960’s and covers all works from that point onwards. However, there is one movement that rejected the works of its predecessors and that is the 1970’s movement known as Land Art or Earth Art. Land art is to be understood as an artistic protest against the perceived artificiality, plastic aesthetics and ruthless commercialization of art at the end of the 1960s in America.

Exponents of land art rejected the museum or gallery as the setting of artistic activity and developed monumental landscape projects which were beyond the reach of traditional transportable sculpture and the commercial art market. Land art was inspired by minimal art and Conceptual art but also by modern and minimal movements such as De Stijl, cubism, minimalism and the work of Constantin Brancusi and Joseph Beuys. Many of the artists associated with land art had been involved with minimal art and conceptual art.

By the 1970’s the myth of the avant guard in painting and sculpture was winding down. Modernism itself has become our official culture. (Hughes: New York, 1991) At the end of Modernity, Land Art had a smaller audience than cubism had 70 years prior. It r ejects museums as the works can never be moved or reproduced. The last act of modernism was to return to the desert and to retreat from those who wanted to smother it with love and to discover in physical isolation a kind of parallel and equivalent to the cultural isolation that was the fate of the original avant-garde.

One of the largest sculptures of the 20th century is by American artist Michael Heiser. It is located at the edge of nuclear proving ground in the Nevada Desert. Complex 1, as Heiser dubbed it, started in 1972. It stands towering at 40 meters long 33 wide and 7 high. Heiser himself says there are no ideas attached to the object because it is immovable and you can’t trade it or move it, nor is it worth anything. The theory is that art and land are the greatest value and here you have both yet neither are worth much.

Tried to surpass the historic scale of properties like Stonehenge. Objects like this were created to change the works relation to the art world as a system to get it out of the stream of opinion about art and the stream of official culture and money exchange. Isolation is the essence of Land art remoteness gives all efforts to see it the characteristics of a pilgrimage. By going to it you have accepted it and given more time to it than anyone would to a sculpture in a museum.

I feel these works are especially significant in that they truly do bring art to the world and the world to art in a way which had never been done before. It rejects every notion of art we had seen up until this point. The idea that form follows function is lost here as there is no function. The notion that art is created and housed in museums because art betters us as human beings is also a thing of the past. These works are free of all artifice and imposition. They are simply art created from life and life created from art. Works Cited 1) Hughes, Robert The Shock of the New (1991), New York: McGraw-Hill