The avant-garde revolution was over. Ironically, their work also signified the end of avant-gardism and the onset of post-modernism. The avant-garde had become history. Its contradictions, the emptiness, the triumph of form over substance, essentially its transformation into rote kitsch meant it would keel over and die under its own weight. After the originality of the initial impulse, the Clement Greenberg attack of Nazi kitsch art, the post-modernists arrived, intuitively, that these opposites were part of the same system. Their achievement was to reconcile seemingly irreconcilable styles.
It was not conceptually original, a breakthrough, but it amply demonstrated a unity of opposites shown to be part of a larger esthetic whole. This meant converting high-art into kitsch cliches. Emotionally defective ones through suggesting the banality of its form stripping them of art and significance. It was a bit of a punk esthetic that brought out a psych-social use of abstract art to be more significant and meaningful than the self-importance and narcissism of formal purity which bizarrely recalled the same false and empty values of the Fascist esthetic it ostensibly was opposed to. It did not aim to achieve a Kandinsky quality of the spiritual in art, but rather, and importantly, asserted that adversarial and critical content trumped the mainly bullshit of vague, ill-defined, esoteric inner logic.
Kuspit: There are two works that seem to me telling of the 1970s: Sigmar Polke’s sardonic Carl Andre in Delft, ca. 1968 — an important year for the counterrevolution against sociopolitical orthodoxy, as the May riots in Paris, the riots provoked by the Chicago Seven, and the Vietnam protests in the United States indicate — and Judy Chicago’s feminist The Dinner Party (1974-79). However different, both rebel against the tyranny of Minimalism, the purest — and emptiest — abstract art ever made. For Chicago it was a symbol of masculine as well as esthetic authoritarianism….
…For Polke it was a symbol of America’s absolutist rule of modern art. For both the American female artist and the German male artist Minimalism was the inexpressive dead end of art. Both vehemently attacked it, Polke using irony, Chicago using ideology, to assert a new individuality — woman’s individuality and independence in Chicago’s case, German individuality and independence in Polke’s case. Thus the oppressed rose up against the art and social establishment. They questioned and demystified — indeed, discredited and debunked — the official system of dominance and exclusivity. What had hitherto been uncritically accepted as esthetically and culturally superior was unceremoniously relegated to irrelevance. A supposedly major art was shown to be minor, and the vanquished Germans no longer humbly emulated the victorious Americans. It was a truly great moment in modern art and social history. Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit7-28-06.asp…
…The avant-garde lost credibility and value because it failed in its ultimate mission of esthetic transcendence. It was unable, despite its best efforts, to insulate the individual from history, sparing him the annihilative emotional effects of barbarism by affording esthetic salvation. But avant-garde art left a legacy of esthetic innovation that seemed valuable in its own right. Its ideas and forms could be used for “impure,” commonplace — and communal — purposes….
…Polke comically transforms Andre’s Minimalist grid of metal plates into painted Dutch tiles, undermining their seriousness. Chicago’s huge triangular table has place settings for 39 “great ladies,” to refer to the title of the series of paintings of queens that preceded The Dinner Party. Interestingly, Chicago’s work, a collaborative effort with craftswomen, also uses tiles: there are 144 on the floor — the same number that Andre used in his early floor pieces, each a 12 by 12 foot square made of 12 by 12 inch squares (a regular version of Malevich’s irregularly placed square within a square, indicating that Suprematism had become standardized) — in the center of the triangle. But there is a crucial difference: both Andre’s metal plates and Polke’s painted tiles are square, while Chicago’s tiles are equilateral triangles, echoing the shape of the table. For Chicago the triangle is a symbol of the vagina, and it is vaginas — each monumental, assertive, projecting and vividly colored — that we see on each dinner plate. Instead of phallic power, we have vaginal power — or rather phallic vaginas, that is, the mythical vagina of all-powerful, goddess-like woman….
…These vaginas symbolize the creative achievement, against all social odds, of the women they belonged to, among them the African-American abolitionist-feminist Sojourner Truth and Emily Dickinson, the reclusive poet, as well as Georgia O’Keeffe (she was still alive when t
ork was made), whose flower forms have been interpreted as vaginal displays. They may have been an inspiration if not direct model for Chicago’s more dynamic — indeed, vigorously Abstract Expressionist and sculptural — vaginas. …Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit7-28-06.asp
The new German art not only broke the taboo against irrational, perverse imagery — imagery that resonated with unconscious meaning (“pandemonium,” as Georg Baselitz called it) — but against sociohistorical consciousness in art. American pure art had declared both irrelevant to the true, higher purpose of art. In their different ways, Baselitz and Anselm Kiefer, among others, use modernist methods to convey the depressing effect of the disaster Germany brought upon itself in the Second World War. Both are what might be called culturally narcissistic artists. They hold an artistic mirror up to the unconscious of their society, faithfully mirroring its self-destructiveness. They show its wounded body and broken spirit, reminding postwar Germany of what it would rather forget. They picture the ruins of German greatness, suggesting that it was never more than a myth. They are refreshingly if morbidly emotional in a society reluctant to acknowledge the suffering it has caused. They are the first truly tragic artists who appeared in any country after the Second World War.Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit7-28-06.asp