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Avant Garde Art

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In fine art, the term “avant-garde” (from the French for ‘vanguard’) is traditionally used to describe any artist, group or style, which is considered to be significantly ahead of the majority in its technique, subject matter, or application. This is a very vague definition, not least because there is no clear consensus as to WHO decides whether an artist is ahead of his time, or WHAT is meant by being ahead. To put it another way, being avant-garde involves exploring new artistic methods, or experimenting with new techniques, in order to produce better art. The emphasis here is on design, rather than accident, since it seems doubtful that a painter or sculptor can be accidentally avant-garde. But what constitutes ‘better’ art? Does it mean, for instance, painting that is more aesthetically pleasing? Or more meaningful? Or more vividly coloured? The questions go on and on!

The late 1980s and 1990s saw the rise of a UK avant-garde group known as Young British Artists (YBAs), whose members included the Turner Prize Winners Mark Wallinger (b.1959), Rachel Whiteread (b.1963), Gillian Wearing (b.1963), Damien Hirst (b.1965), Douglas Gordon (b.1966), Chris Ofili (b.1968), and Steve McQueen (b.1969). Another controversial member was Tracey Emin (b.1963). The YBAs attracted huge controversy for their challenging, even subversive, approach to their subject matter and use of materials (elephant dung, maggots, dead shark, human blood) – which shocked both the critics and the public. Even so, their avant-garde approach revitalized British art and won them a huge following, including the patronage of Charles Saatchi, Britain’s leading collector or contemporary art, along with numerous exhibitions at the famous Saatchi Gallery, and the Sensation exhibition (1997) at the London Royal Academy.

An impossible question to answer, so I’ll just give you our top candidates. These include: JMW Turner (a painter arguably 50 years ahead of his time); Claude Monet (the first revolutionary of modern painting); Ilya Repin (the first painter to capture the authentic detail of life in Russia); Picasso (for his mastery of figurative and abstract art in almost all media); Marcel Duchamp (the pioneer of Dada and Object Art, from which Conceptual Art emerged); Andy Warhol (the first and arguably greatest postmodernist); and Damien Hirst (art’s greatest self-publicist).


Which Are The World’s Most Avant-Garde Paintings?

Here are our suggestions, listed in chronological order:

Expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise (1426) by Masaccio
The Ghent Altarpiece (1432) Jan van Eyck and Hubert van Eyck
The Flagellation (1460) by Piero della Francesca
Mona Lisa (1503) Leonardo da Vinci
School of Athens (1511) Raphael
Isenheim Altarpiece (1512-15) by Matthias Grunewald
Summer (1573) by Giuseppe Arcimboldo
The Burial of Count Orgaz (1586) by El Greco
The Supper at Emmaus (1601) by Caravaggio
The Night Watch (1642) by Rembrandt
Las Meninas (1556) by Diego Velazquez
Man and Woman Contemplating the Moon (1835) by Caspar David Friedrich
Interior at Petworth (1837) by JMW Turner
Snow Storm – Steam Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth (1842) by JMW Turner
Olympia (1863) by Edouard Manet
Impression, Sunrise (1873) by Claude Monet
Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) by Pablo Picasso
Harmony in Red (1908) by Henri Matisse
Nude Descending a Staircase No.2 (1912) by Marcel Duchamp
Black Circle (1913) by Kasimir Malevich
Soft Construction with Boiled Beans (1936) by Salvador Dali
Broadway Boogie Woogie (1942-3) by Piet Mondrian
Number 6 (1948) by Jackson Pollock
Yellow and Gold (1956) by Mark Rothko
Eight Elvises (1963) by Andy Warhol
Blue Electric Chair (1964) by Andy Warhol

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Written by Martin Franck*

April 10, 2011 at 7:52 pm

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