Avant-garde By Gammel, Irene
The term “avant-garde” has a double meaning, denoting first, the historical movements that started in the late nineteenth century and ended in the 1920s and 1930s, and second, the ongoing practices of radical innovation in art, literature, and fashion in the later twentieth century (often inspired by the historical avant-garde and referred to as the neo-avant-garde). Within the context of modernism, historical avant-garde movements (such as Dada, Futurism, Vorticism, Anarchism, and Constructivism) radicalized innovations in aesthetic forms and content, while also engaging viewers and readers in deliberately shocking new ways. Locked in a dialectical relationship between the avant-garde and modernism, as Richard Murphy has written (1999: 3), the historical avant-garde accelerated the advent of modernism, which routinely appropriated and repackaged avant-garde experimentation in tamer forms. As the Latinate term “avant-garde” took root first France and Italy, and later in Germany and English-speaking countries, the trajectory of the avant-garde’s relationship with, or opposition to, modernism has been theorized in a myriad of different, even conflicting, ways across different cultures. Is the avant-garde an extension of, or a synonym for, modernism (as suggested in some early American criticism) or are the two concepts in opposition to each other (as proposed in Italian and Spanish criticism)?