"The Power of the Avant-Garde: Now and Then" opens at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts

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"The Power of the Avant-Garde: Now and Then" opens at BOZAR Centre for Fine Arts
Kazimir Malevich, Lady at the Tram Stop, 1913-1914. Collection Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam.

BRUSSELS.- How relevant is the avant-garde, born on the eve of the First World War, today? The Power of the Avant-Garde. Now and Then attempts to answer this question by retracing the history of the great artistic movements of the historical avant-garde and inviting a number of contemporary artists to enter into dialogue with their predecessors. Starting out with James Ensor and Edvard Munch, the exhibition takes a look at movements such as Die Brücke, Der Blaue Reiter, the Italian Futurists, Russian Cubo-Futurism and the Bauhaus. The account is interspersed with contributions from around fifteen contemporary artists - including Luc Tuymans, Marlene Dumas, David Claerbout, Olafur Eliasson, William Forsythe and William Kentridge – who enter into dialogue with one particular avant-garde artist whose oeuvre resonates in their own work.

With more than 120 emblematic works from the historical avant-garde and another 15 by contemporary artists, The Power of the Avant-Garde, Now and Then opens our eyes to a novel reference framework for modern art.

A rich overview bringing together works by Alexander Archipenko, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp, Fernand Léger, Kasimir Malevitch, Natalia Gontcharova, Emil Nolde, Oscar Kokoschka, Paul Klee, Gino Severini, Pablo Picasso, Marlene Dumas, William Forsythe, Gerhard Richter, Sean Scully, Luc Tuymans, and David Claerbout.

Between 1895 and 1920, several movements which experimented with new artistic forms emerged throughout Europe. It was the golden age of the historical avant-garde: in a world that was moving forward at such a fast pace, in which industry was increasingly internationalised and the use of machinery more widespread than ever, artists were breaking with traditions and seeking a new language. They saw themselves as visionaries of social revolutions.

In 2016,BOZAR is presenting a series of exhibitions which explore the significance and impact of the avant-garde. After Theo van Doesburg, Daniel Buren and Facing the Future. Art in Europe 1945-68, the exhibition The Power of the Avant-Garde. Now and Then is showcasing works from the turn of the 20th century to the years immediately after the First World War. The exhibition illustrates both the appearance of new artistic explorations and, thanks to the contributions from contemporary artists, their resonance in contemporary art.

The Power of the Avant-Garde. Now and Then might fall within the context of the commemoration of the First World War, but it is not in fact an exhibition devoted to the war. On the contrary, it is a celebration of the energy, dynamism, utopias and expressive power of what we now refer to as the “historical avant-garde”.

The Power of the Avant-Garde – THEN
The curator Ulrich Bischoff has come up with a fragmented and deliberately non-exhaustive overview of the artists and movements which characterised the art world between the final decade of the 19th century right up until the founding of the Bauhaus in Weimar in 1919.

In Germany, artists such as Karl Schmidt-Rottluff, Erich Heckel, Emil Nolde and August Macke spearheaded the German expressionist movements Die Brücke and Der Blaue Reiter. In Italy, artists including Gino Severini, Umberto Boccioni and Giacomo Balla embodied Italian Futurism. In Russia, Kasimir Malevitch, Lyubov Popova, Olga Rozanova, Nadeschda Udaltsova invented Cubo-Futurism and foreshadowed - with other avant-garde artists such as Natalia Gontcharova and Mikhail Larionov - the constructivism and abstraction which would develop after the First World War.

The exhibition also presents works by several artistic personalities who were not part of any particular movement, but whose original work was absolutely crucial: Edvard Munch, Fernand Léger, Antonio de Souza-Cardoso, Robert Delaunay, Marcel Duchamp and Egon Schiele.

The Power of the Avant-Garde - NOW
If the impact of the avant-garde is barely perceptible from the perspective of world history, today it still produces decisive effects and remains a reference in contemporary art. In order to illustrate this, around fifteen contemporary artists each chose an artist whose oeuvre resonates in their work. Through the juxtaposition of works, a quote or an allusion, a personal dialogue is created with the chosen artist. “Tandems” thus come about revealing the artist’s subjective view of the avantgarde and its relevance today.

The tandems:
Olafur Eliasson – Alexander Archipenko
Marcel Odenbach – James Ensor
Marlene Dumas – Edvard Munch
Jeff Wall – Franz Kafka
John Baldessari – Marcel Broodthaers
Koen Vermeule – Leon Spilliaert
Roman Signer - Katarzyna Kobro
Bogomir Ecker – Fortunato Depero
David Claerbout – Piet Mondriaan
Marijke van Warmerdam - Robert Flaherty
William Forsythe – Marcel Duchamp
Luc Tuymans – Raymond Duchamp-Villon
William Kentridge - Dziga Vertov
Sean Scully – Fernand Léger

Two contemporary artists feature without tandem. Louise Lawler on the one hand, whose work Woman with Picasso, contains an implicit reference to the avant-garde and, on the other hand, as a prelude to the exhibition, a photographic edition of 48 portraits by Gerhard Richter. In this installation, numerous historical figures are thinkers and scientists who played a part in shaping society at the turn of the 20th century. In a way they symbolise the established order and the Zeitgeist from which the avant-garde wanted to break free.

The exhibition also covers the Belgian avant-garde, with a small section presenting works by Paul Joostens, Prosper De Troyer and Oscar Jespers. In parallel, the Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium (RMFAB) are exhibiting a selection of modern Belgian works from their collection. The exhibition 14-18 - Rupture or Continuity? (29.09.2016 > 22.01.2017) will exhibit notably works by Permeke, Jules Schmalzigaug and Jozef Peeters. The exhibition is accompanied by an international colloquium - Before and after? Continuity or rupture? (24-25.11.2016) examining Belgian artistic plurality with the First World War as a backdrop.

By way of an introduction to the exhibition, Matthias Rogg, director of the Militärhistorisches Museum in Dresden, makes reference to the military origin of the term avant-garde. One of his installations includes two objects – a wrist watch and a grenade – both of which influenced the war and modern society and hence art.

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