When avant-garde is not (necessarily) art

I always enjoy reading art reviews of British newspapers because they do not feel obliged to hold their words. The recent polemic against a new statue to be placed in Devon, conceived by Damien Hirst, a “hot subject” on the guardian’s website


made me think again on the long lost avant-garde that is however desperately claimed by many, curators mostly nowadays; for the artists work for them, let’s not forget.

I have seen only photographs of the statue in question and comments like being a monstrosity of fascistic taste, an appallingly allegoric figure, an object of bad aesthetics, etc. What I see in it is a 3d figure of a potential computer game, having roots in science fiction literature and a hint of ridicule for statuary of this kind. It can be that it is bad aesthetics but since when are we so concerned about aesthetics? I thought that this word was banned from the profession’s terminology, especially in high level art and in art schools even more.

The term “avant-garde” also popped up as a was but now is not. Avant-garde is dragging each time the limits of art to further directions; it is meant to stretch boundaries, to open horizons; freedom accompanied by a shock is part of its definition. Why then do we expect it to be within the rules of arts, even more of visual arts, if that is what we are talking about (though this as well is in question). Now, 20 years later, we question whether Hirst was avant-garde when he presented the shark in formaldehyde. Yes he was, it was a break with the expected. No he wasn’t, as this new “form”  complied with the cleanliness that  lifestyle demanded, therefore there was nothing freeing about it. Yes he was, as his work was describing the 90’s without saying anything. No he wasn’t…so, a biology project was presented as art in the beginning of the 90’s and was mostly praised by the critics; plus, it attracted an un-proportional (always is) financial interest. For that, we cannnot blame Hirst. It rather worked against him if he ever wanted to live and develop himself as an artist; never had the chance to even think about it. So, now that the society context has changed and we are bored of him, finally he is allowed to fail. Maybe his rotting fish is now again aligned to the environment, that of Europe. Just as it was then when people chose for glamour, whatever would not remind them of their rotting self if only on the surface. Maybe that avant-garde work of his was a truth by itself, in its sterility and in its decay.

I am not a Hirst fan. But hearing criticism about “form” from people who wiped out the “visual” from visual arts annoys me.To the accusations that this is not art I would say so what? Is the 8 (or 9 or 10) o’clock  news really news? How many things claim to be something that they are not? How many definitions have slided the last 20 years (at least) without us worrying a bit? Hirst is simply doing the job that someone gave him.

project Alien, 1999, “The end of the alien”

One thought on “When avant-garde is not (necessarily) art

  1. “Is the 8 (or 9 or 10) o’clock news really news?”
    I guess we can call it 50 minutes later
    I love the pictures (see Guardian a-day-later-paper link)
    the raising of Damien Hirst’s statue ‘’Verity’’ and your “The end of the alien”

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