So sometimes I don’t get published – sometimes my work isn’t suitable for the publication, I didn’t pay enough attention, I couldn’t quite find the words to make sense of what I wanted to say. Sometimes the editors advertise the publication as an avant-garde art magazine, when it’s really a giant myspace blog. Here is an example of one of the above – note that it’s a little out of date at this point
Ce n’est pas un leçon d’histoire
In an era of hyperrealism, bricolage, and retrospective trends, it is often hard to get excited about new movements, for it is instantly labelled by what has come before. Nu-rave, boho – everything is predicated on something else, to the extent that even the “alternative” has become a paint-by-numbers exercise of being un-mainstream. So where can we turn for something progressive?
In a room next to some of the most ideological texts of our legacy is Breaking The Rules, an exhibition which presents a non-nostalgic collection of 1920s-40s “avant-garde” artefacts. Brecht, Man Ray, and even The Sex Pistols intermingle to posit the reader in the theoretical location and mindset of the project, rather than have it dictated.
Lee Miller’s work connects institutions of all sizes this winter. The Photographer’s Gallery places her at one end of its premises, with Seeing is Believing, a series on capturing the ethereal on film, cleverly marking a physical distinction between the new and old, and at the same time uniting them through their mutual teetering on boundaries of preconception. The Victoria and Albert Museum featured Miller’s resonant work alongside the – at first seemingly frivolous – Golden Age of Couture exhibit. Joint tickets were even available. This juxtaposition blurs the frivolity/resonance binary, as Miller is also portrayed as sensual and motherly (indeed, some argue that she is only remembered by association), and the “parade” style layout of the clothing exhibit indulges in the female’s relationship with her own masquerade and gender performance. This confusion is the avant-garde.
Today, the curator and editor are as much in control of regeneration as the artist or musician, and museums in particular recount the past with a view to changing the present. The appearance of the early 20th avant-garde across the vast majority of London’s cultural sites – from the Sex and Antiquity exhibit at the Barbican, to Pop Art Prints at the National Portrait Gallery, to the Lee Miller showings at the V&A and Photographer’s Gallery – suggests that a line must be drawn under chronology, and the time for change has come. We have not re-discovered the avant-garde, but we are aware of the need for invention.