In April, Bret Schneider and Omair Hussain interviewed Hal Foster for The Platypus Affiliated Society: “Is the funeral for the wrong corpse?”
I still find helpful an old essay by the historian Perry Anderson that discusses the conditions of the historical avant-garde. First, there was a rigid academy to be resisted. Then there was a technological transformation to be addressed. Finally, there was a socialist revolution to be engaged. In his account—it is schematic—they drove the historical avant-garde, in its many varieties, in the moment of World War I. For the neo-avant-garde of the 1960s those conditions no longer obtained, but new ones provided an analogous context nonetheless. If there was not an art academy to resist, there was a mass-media culture to contest. If there was not a second industrial revolution to address, there was a post-industrial transformation to consider. And if there was not a socialist revolution to engage, there were struggles of other kinds to join somehow—postcolonial, racial, sexual. These forces persist, and the need to develop forms and institutions accordingly also persists. So, in principle, the avant-garde project should be alive and well. Why does it not seem so? Is it my myopia—or is it blocked by other forces? Probably both.