Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 1: Introduction

Introduction: this study day explores different ideas of avant-garde art in the early twentieth century, and in contemporary practice

Video coverage of the conference Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia; Introduction

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 2: Paul Wood

Session 1: The idea of ‘avant-garde’ in the early 20th century. Speaker: Paul Wood, Senior Lecturer at the Open University

Paul Wood introduces the development of the idea of an avant-garde. He looks at what it meant in the early twentieth century and also discuss some contemporary art historical views on the avant-garde.

Further Reading

Francis Picabia 1879-1953 (exhibition catalogue), National Galleries of Scotland/Galerie Neuendorf, Frankfurt am Main 1988
Francis Picabia
(exhibition catalogue), Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris 2002
George Baker, The Artwork Caught By The Tail, An October Book, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London 2007
Francis Picabia, I am a Beautiful Monster. Poetry, Prose and Provocation, trans. Marc Lowenthal, MIT Press, Cambridge MA and London 2007

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 3: Jason Gaiger

Session 2: Incidental and Integral Beauty: Duchamp, Danto and the Intractable Avant-Garde. Speaker: Jason Gaiger, lecturer in art history at the Open University

It is widely accepted that the radical avant-garde movements of the early twentieth century abjured beauty, thereby effecting a decisive break with the art of the past. Duchamp is accorded a leading role in this process insofar as he rejected the satisfactions of ‘retinal pleasure’ in favour of an art of ideas. This paper argues that although it is a mistake to assimilate the Readymades to traditional models of aesthetic appreciation, the physical properties of Duchamp’s chosen objects remain ‘integral’ to their meaning as works of art, which resides at least in part in the conflict or dissonance between their appearance and their artworld status.

Further Reading

Arthur Danto, The Abuse of Beauty: Aesthetics and the Concept of Art, Open Court Publishing 2003
Frank Sibley, Approach to Aesthetics: Collected Papers on Philosophical Aesthetics, Oxford University Press 2001
William A. Camfield, ‘Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain: Its History and Aesthetics in the Context of 1917’ in Rudolf Kuenzli and Francis M. Naumann, eds., Marcel Duchamp: Artist of the Century, MIT Press 1989
Jason Gaiger, ‘Interpreting the Readymade: Marcel Duchamp’s Bottlerack, in Jason Gaiger, ed., Frameworks for Modern Art, Yale University Press 2003
Pierre Cabanne, Dialogues with Marcel Duchamp, trans. Ron Padgett, Da Capo Press 1971

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 4: T.J. Demos

Session 3: Dada and Exile. Speaker: T.J. Demos, art critic and a lecturer in the Art History Department, University College London

T.J. Demos discusses the form and function of ‘exile. in relation to the work of Duchamp, Man Ray, and Picabia, a term that both defines the experiential circumstances of Dadaist artists and inflects Dada’s aesthetico-political commitment. During the early twentieth-century, a period of expanding capitalism and catastrophic world war, each of these artists produced experimental objects that mobilize unconventional materials and spaces, formal constructions and linguistic formulations in ways that negotiated the experience of geographical and political dislocation. Demos examines the link between art and politics in relation to Dada’s aesthetics of exile.

Further Reading

T.J. Demos, The Exiles of Marcel Duchamp (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press 2007)
T.J. Demos, ‘The Language of ‘Expatriation’, Dada Culture, ed. Dafydd Jones (Amsterdam: Rodopi Verlag 2006), pp.91–117
T.J. Demos, ‘Zurich Dada: The Aesthetics of Exile’, The Dada Seminars, ed. Leah Dickerman (Washington D.C. National Gallery of Art 2005), pp.7–30

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 5: Jennifer Mundy

Session 4: Three’s a Crowd? Speaker: Jennifer Mundy, Head of Collection Research at Tate

Jennifer Mundy, curator of Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, reflects on the exhibition, its making and its aims.

Further Reading

Jennifer Mundy ed., Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, Tate Publishing, London 2008.

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 6: Dave Beech

Session 5: Dave Beech. Speaker: Dave Beech, artist in the collective Freee

Dave Beech links Picabia’s monster paintings to current artists such as Mark McGowan, Laura Oldfield Ford and Freee by drawing out a shared commitment to produce art that does without the privileges of cultural capital, taste, style and so on. Picabia’s critique of art – his anti-art – was a full-on philistinism (his version of avant-garde deskilling was an attack on taste as much as craft) even if it was mainly pictorial. Today artists pursue the challenge to art without restricting themselves to the pictorial or questions of style. McGowan uses outrageous performances to create controversy; Laura Oldfield Ford uses the formats of subcultural activism to put the artist in the thick of things; while the collective Freee use the technologies of the mass media to establish small counter-public spheres.

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 7: Richard DeDomenici

Session 6: Leave the Avant-Garde Behind. Speaker: Richard DeDomenici, describes himself as a Quipnunc, a Gadfly, and a Trimtab

Some of artist Richard DeDomenici’s work is so new that it seems rubbish at first. Join him as he tries to convince you otherwise.

Further Reading

Richard DeDomenici, Normalisation of Deviance, Live Art Development Agency 2008
Richard DeDomenici, Richard DeDomenici is Still an Artist, Published by Arnolfini 2006
Richard DeDomenici, Intelligence Failure, Published by Richard DeDomenici Products 2005
Fame Asylum, Channel Four Television 2006
Marine Richard, Territories – A Review for Artistic Creation in European Public Areas, ViaEuropea.eu, Marseille  2008
Sean Hall, This Means This, This Means That – A User’s Guide to Semiotics, Laurence King Publishing, London  2007
Nicole Antebi, Colin Dickey, Robby Herbst, Failure! Experiments in Aesthetic and Social Practices, Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, Los Angeles 2006
V. Vale & Andrew Juno, Pranks!, RE/Search Publications, San Francisco 1987
Lenny Bruce, How to Talk Dirty and Influence People, Granada Publishing, St Albans 1975

Against the Avant-Garde? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia – Part 8: Carey Young

Session 7: Imagination Engineering. Speaker: Carey Young, artist based in London

Using a variety of media including video, performance and photography, artist Carey Young uses found tools, language and training processes from the worlds of the multinational corporation and global law firm and diverts them into an artistic context from which she explores ideas of autonomy, duration, intimacy and dissent. In her talk she will discuss the corporate avant-garde’s hunger for ‘creativity’ and ‘revolutionary’ language and how she responds to these challenges within her own artistic work. In recent projects she has been ‘psychoanalysed’ in terms of her ability to remember corporate slogans concerning ‘creativity’, received motivational training to help present herself as a convincing revolutionary, offered a spoken portrait of a call centre worker, and presented legal contracts which bind the viewer to the artist for indefinite periods of time.

Further Reading

Bell, Natalie, ‘Carey Young’, Art Papers, March/April 2008
Townsend, Chris, New Art from London, Thames & Hudson, London 2006
Hoffmann, Jens and Jonas, Joan, Art Works: Perform, Thames & Hudson, London 2005
Gillick, Liam and Young, Carey in Mir, Aleksandra, Corporate Mentalities, Lukas & Sternberg, New York 2003
Farquharson, Alex; Gillick, Liam and Young, Carey; Kelsey, John and Millar, Jeremy, in Carey Young, Incorporated, John Hansard Gallery and Film & Video Umbrella, London 2002

Taking as its point of departure the major new exhibition Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, it looks at utopian beliefs in the power of art and culture to transform society, and explores differing approaches to the concept of a radical art. It includes discussion of collaborative and activist strategies, with contributions from art historians Paul Wood, T.J. Demos and Jason Gaiger from the Open University and Tate Modern curator Jennifer Mundy. Artists Dave Beech, Carey Young and Richard DeDomenici discuss their different approaches to the concept of the avant-garde in their work.

This Study Day will be of particular interest to undergraduate and postgraduate students of modern and contemporary art, and those studying Open University courses AA318 (Themes in Contemporary Art), A216 (Art and its Histories) and the MA in Art History.

In collaboration with The Open University