Disobedient Objects – Edward Lucie-Smith at the Victoria and Albert Museum

It is understandable that, in current

circumstances, major arts institutions should try to ally themselves with the more anarchic, contrarian elements in contemporary culture. Perhaps this is especially true of those dealing with the
contemporary visual arts, committed as these still google_ad_height = 90; are to the myth of ‘avant-gardism’. One problem that immediately presents itself, of course, is that this myth is not itself


contemporary – it is

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rooted in the very earliest years of the century before ours, and first blossomed before the outbreak of World War I. The

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myth has become so diversified in the course of more than a century of src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> growth that what google_ad_height = 90; is indisputably avant garde today has become very src="//pagead2.googlesyndication.com/pagead/show_ads.js"> difficult to define. One man’s ‘avant garde’ can easily be his neighbour’s idea of
ho-hum, follow-my-leader conservatism.

Another problem, allied to the first, is that the history of the 20th century

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avant garde was rather specifically a history of élites. Avant-garde

artists relied on élite patrons for financial support – independently wealthy, high status individuals who were conscious of /* xin2 */ the fact that their championship of the radically new
distinguished them from the mass. There is also the fact that the now-classical avant-garde art movements initially embraced right wing politics more enthusiastically than they did

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left wing ones. This was the case with Italian Futurism, the most publicised of the early

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avant-gardes. Later, when avant-garde artists began to identify with the left, it google_ad_width = 970; was nevertheless would-be mass movements, Nazism
Soviet Communism, which were particularly hostile to avant-garde art. When Surrealism tried to sustain an alliance

careful attention to these objects [included] and their own and their own instituent power.”

On the other they declare:

“Exhibitions are moments of collective meaning-making. Bringing these objects and histories together,

and presenting them to an audience that never encounters them outside the mass media, makes the museum a site for difficult questions
and tests it
claim to be a public space.”

The phrase that //--> betrays something here is “never encounters them outside the mass media”. The assumption seems to be that what is experienced within the sanctified space of the museum must necessarily be superior to the same thing experienced outside it. In other words, the official framework, just because it is official, offers a validation unobtainable

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in the non-official circumstances in which these ‘disobedient
objects’ were first made. This paradox is a step too far. The objects concerned have, on the whole, no aesthetic value. They may
have had force within the very specific contexts that provoked their production. google_ad_height = 90; But not here. They are dead fish on a slab. In an interview given in conjunction with the show, Catherine Flood claimed that the items displayed had not been ‘museumified’ – her word, not mine. I beg to differ. That is exactly

to be radical and is in fact deeply conventional and self-congratulatory. It won’t change anyone’s mind.

Edward Lucie-Smith

The Jackdaw Nov/Dec 2014