THE AVANT-GARDE IN EXHIBITION: New An in the 20th Century by Bruce Altshuler

THE AVANT-GARDE IN EXHIBITION: New An in the 20th Century

Email this review


The questionable premise of this data-packed book is that the avant-garde is dead, that the isolated artist spurned by a ridiculing public no longer exists, and that today challenging art is readily brought into mainstream venues. Altshuler, director of the Isamu Noguchi Garden Museum in New York City, focuses on 19 exhibitions held between 1905 and 1969, when the avant-garde was still alive. He covers, among other movements, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, the Blaue Reiter, Dada, Action Painting, and Pop, ending with the ""When Attitudes Become Form"" show at the Bern, Switzerland, Kunsthalle, devoted to the work of conceptual artists like Joseph Kosuth, Joseph Beuys, and Richard Artschwager. Altshuler notes that by the late '60s the art-loving public had come not just to tolerate difficult art, but to ""crave"" it. The story of the 20th-century artistic avant-garde is hardly unfamiliar. For years, the permanent collection of New York City's Museum of Modern Art followed the same time line as Attshuler's; also Robert Hughes covered similar ground in The Shock of the New (1981). But Altshuler emphasizes the intense battles artists fought to bring their work into the public eye; many of the century's ground-breaking shows, like the ""First Exhibition of the Editors of the Blaue Reiter"" (Munich, 1911), were organized by the artists themselves and financed by the group's wealthier members. The author describes a group in Japan, the little-known Gutai Art Association, whose activities were funded by Jiro Yoshihara, head of a cooking-oil empire. But unlike today's corporate sponsors, Yoshihara kept company with his artists and felt deeply about their work. Altshuler provides a fascinating account of ""Gutai's Experimental Outdoor Modern Art Exhibition to Challenge the Burning Midsummer Sun"" (outside of Osaka, 1955), showing how that work anticipated process, performance, and conceptual art. While Altshuler does raise valid points, his argument neglects today's increasingly conservative climate for art funding; many avant-garde artists whose grants have recently been withdrawn or their applications denied might feel less than coddled and coopted.

Pub Date: Nov. 1st, 1994
Page count: 288pp
Publisher: Abrams