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The Avant-Garde Industry Daryl Chin Although the concept of "the avant-garde" has been in constant evocation in the discourse of the contemporary arts, the actual practice of an avantgarde has been in disarray for at least the past two decades. The construct of any argument which considers "the avant-garde" has been couched in terms of an essential fallacy. Without the establishment of tradition, there can be no deviation, no exception, no rebellion to the norm. At this point, debate regarding the decline and the ultimate decadence of artistic practice would be deliterious: either the situation is acknowledged and accepted , or not. Commentators in many divergent fields have provided eloquent testimony to the declension of ambition in "the avant-garde"; among recent examples, I can recommend P. Adams Sitney's essay "Point of View: Rear-Garde" in American Film (July-August 1985) and Fred Camper's essay "Two American Cinemas" in Spiral, Number 4 (July 1985), Rosalyn Deutsche and Cara Gendel Ryan's essay "The Fine Art of Gentrification" in October, Number 31 (Winter 1984-85) and Robert Hughes's essay "Careerism and Hype Amidst the Image Haze" in the Time newsweekly issue of June 17, 1985, and Charles Newman's book The Post-Modern Aura (Northwestern University Press, 1985). The range of opinion, of subject, and of address does not obscure the fact that there emerges the definition of a generalized consensus acknowledged as the malaise of contemporary art. In the September and the October, 1984, issues of Art in America, the sculptor Donald Judd presented a polemic on the state of contemporary aesthetics. Deploring the market mentality which has elevated the young painters who have gone under the rubric of "neo-Expressionism" and "Trans-Avant-Garde" (painters such as Julian Schnabel, Francesco Clemente, Anselm Kiefer), Judd goes on to describe the state of discourse 59 which has degenerated into consumer guides. He noted: "The quality of new art has been declining for 15 years. There are some probable reasons for this, but none which finally explain the fundamental fact of why. There have been almost no first-rate artists in this time. Neither do similar reasons explain why there were so many in the late '40s and early '50s and the late '50s and early '60s. Despite all that's wrong in this society it's the responsibility of new artists to occur. The explanation that the times and the society are bad is pointless. Probably they have always been and the issue is whether too bad or a little better. The reason for doing nothing is always wrong. There is also the responsibility of the older artists to uphold a high quality." The specifics of the quality of a society have been addressed by many social commentators, including the anthropologist A. L. Kroeber and the philosopher Benedetto Croce. There are many factors which contribute to the conditions of a particular society, including economic determinants, political ideologies, and environmental considerations . Nevertheless, the determination for aesthetic continuity depends on ideological precepts which often are obscure. That is to say: the perception of excellence and of originality is contingent upon factors aside from intrinsic merit. In the history of the arts, there are innumerable examples of artists underrated and/or overlooked, whose work corresponds to standards which only develop in the future. Stendhal was quoted as saying that his novels (written in the middle of the nineteenth century, and unsuccessful during that period) would find adequate appreciation a century later. Standards can and do change, which is why one part of the literary establishment currently engages in the investigation of "the canon," the definition of the standards which denote "quality" in literature. One of the most prominent venues for "the avant-garde" in terms of performance at present is to be found in the Brooklyn Academy of Music's "Next Wave" series. This past season, the series was held from October to December, 1984; at its conclusion, there were a number of reports and essays written about the situation of marketing "the avant-garde." The entire series was written about in terms of the success with sales: for example , Meredith Monk and Ping Chong's The Games was...


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pp. 59-75
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