The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist

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The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist examines the philosophical, psychological and aesthetic premises for avant-garde art and its subsequent evolution and corruption in the late twentieth century. Arguing that modernist art is essentially therapeutic in intention, both towards self and society, Donald Kuspit further posits that neo-avant-garde, or post-modern art, at once mocks and denies the possibility of therapeutic change. As such, it accommodates the status quo of capitalist society, in which fame and fortune are valued above anything else. Stripping avant-garde art of its missionary, therapeutic intention, neo-avant-garde art instead converts it into a cliché of creative novelty or ironical value for its fashionable look. Moreover, it destroys the precarious balance of artistic narcissism and social empathy that characterizes modern art, tilting it cynically towards the former. Incorporating psychoanalytic ideas, particularly those concerned with narcissism, The Cult of the Avant-Garde Artist offers a reinterpretation of modern art history. Donald Kuspit, one of America's foremost art critics, is a contributing editor to Artforum and the author of many books.

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Editorial Reviews

Library Journal
While neither of these surveys of nonconformist Russian artists is complete unto itself, they perfectly complement each other. Matthew and Renee Baigell, a professor of art history and a student of Russian literature, respectively, offer interviews they conducted with 47 Russian artists who worked outside the government-ordained school of Socialist Realism. Their interviews were conducted recently, spurred by the donation to Rutgers University of Norton Dodge's significant collection of unoffical art assembled over more than three decades. (For more on Dodge, see John McPhee's The Ransom of Russian Art, LJ 11/1/94.) Reprinted verbatim, the interviews are straightforward and as often biographical as analytical in subject matter. Collectively, they offer a singularly clear picture of the trials, and vastly dissimilar experiences, of artists operating at once under and outside a totalitarian regime. While it provides invaluable context, the book lacks both illustrations and an overarching art historical analysis, leaving the reader's appetite whetted but unsatisfied. A catalog of more than 40 paintings from the late 1980s and early 1990s, New Russian Art by contrast offers a vital contemporary sampling, albeit somewhat short on context. The reproductions are large and clear, and the two introductory essays anecdotally describe the building of the collection while offering a quick gloss on the history of the 20th-century Russian avant-garde. Seven of the artists appear in both books. Small art collections might purchase New Russian Art as a sufficient look at recent Russian art, but all larger collections should have both records of this underdocumented milieu.Eric Bryant, "Library Journal"
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780521469227
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press
  • Publication date: 7/31/2008
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 188
  • Product dimensions: 5.98 (w) x 8.98 (h) x 0.43 (d)

Table of Contents

1. Avant-Garde and the neo-avant-garde: from the pursuit of the primordial to the nihilism of narcissism; 1A. The idealisation of the avant-garde artist as transmuter of value; 1B. Fame, fortune, publicity, paratism: The narcissistic illusions of the neo-avant-garde artist; 2. Preliminary therapeutic attitude: the provocative object as a path to primordiality (Picasso and Duchamp); 3. The geometrical cure: art as a matter of principle (Mondrian and Malevich); 4. The expressive cure: art as the recovery of primal emotion (Expressionism and Surrealism); 5. Fame as the cure-all, or the charisma of cynicism: Andy Warhol; 6. Enchanting the disenchanted, or the artist's last stand: Joseph Beuys; 7. The decadence or cloning of the avant-garde: appropriating art; Notes; Index.

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