Main Avant-garde Movements and their characteristics

Avant-garde movements or avant-garde movements refer to the set of artistic and literary movements that emerged at the beginning of the 20th century, characterized by the break with the Western artistic tradition and the search for innovation.

Some avant-garde movements were characterized by being interdisciplinary, while others were specific to certain disciplines, despite the influences they exerted on others. Before explaining each of them, we will make a short list of movements grouped by discipline.

  • Interdisciplinary vanguards (artistic and literary):
    • Futurism;
    • Dadaism;
    • Surrealism.
  • Artistic vanguards:
    • Cubism;
    • Lyrical abstraction, constructivism, suprematism and neoplasticism;
    • abstract expressionism;
    • Pop Art;
    • Performance and happening;
    • hyperrealism;
    • minimalism.
  • Literary vanguards:
    • Creationism;
    • ultraism.

The avant-gardes are usually grouped into two large periods for their study : first wave and second wave. Let us know below the main avant-garde movements of the 20th century in chronological order , their elementary concept, their main exponents and some examples.

First wave of avant-garde movements

The first wave of the avant-garde ranges from around 1907, with the appearance of cubism, to the so-called interwar period, with the appearance of surrealism.

Cubism (1907)

It was an artistic movement, especially pictorial although it also had its expression in sculpture. Its greatest exponents were Pablo Picasso, Juan Gris and Georges Braque. It was characterized by geometric synthesis, the representation of various planes in one and the application of mixed techniques such as collage and typography. It was the first movement to totally break with the principles of traditional art.

In the literary field , the rupturist spirit of cubism was an inspiration for various authors such as Guillaume Apollinaire, defender of pictorial cubism and representative of the so-called visual poetry, as well as Gertrude Stein, Blaise Cendrars and Blaise Cendrars. They bet on breaking the conventional forms of writing, as Picasso and Braque had done, although one cannot properly speak of literary cubism.

Futurism (1909-1944)

He was born in Italy in 1909, from the hand of the Futurist Manifesto, written by the poet Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. He expressed himself both in literature and in the plastic arts (painting and sculpture).

It was a movement based on the exaltation of the machine age, nationalism, revolution and war, which is why it was the only avant-garde movement close to the right. In literature, Giovanni Papini and Marinetti himself stood out.

In plastic arts, the futurist movement sought to incorporate the representation of movement into painting and sculpture. Some of its main representatives were Umberto Boccioni, Gioacomo Balla and Carlos Carra.

Lyrical Abstraction (1910)

It is the first movement that makes the leap to total abstraction, which it assumes from absolute formal freedom, proclaiming the autonomy of art with respect to the content. It was represented by Wassily Kandinsky. This movement, added to cubism, gave way to geometric abstraction. For example, constructivism, suprematism and neoplasticism.

Constructivism (1914)

He was part of one of the currents of geometric abstraction. It was developed by Vladimir Tatlin from his association with the cubists. It was the result of experiments carried out with various materials (wood, wire, fabric, pieces of cardboard and sheet metal) in real space. Put aside illusory resources. Committed to the left, it aspired to be a collective art. One of its top representatives was El Lissitzky.

Suprematism (1915)

He was part of one of the currents of geometric abstraction. It was represented by Kazimir Malevich, who published the Suprematist Manifesto in 1915. It was a painting based on flat geometric forms, without any intention of representation. The main elements are: rectangle, circle, triangle and cruciform figures. Through the Suprematism manifesto, Malevich defended the supremacy of sensibility over objects. It was based, then, on the formal and perceptive relationships between shape and color.

Dadaism (1916)

He was born in Switzerland. Dadaism was both a literary and artistic movement that questioned the Western lifestyle that would end up generating the First World War, which they opposed.

It confronted the concepts of art, artist, museum and collecting through irreverent rupture and reduction to absurdity, which made them define themselves as a rather anti-art movement.

Dadaism was a breeding ground for Surrealism, to which some of its participants would later join. Its maximum literary representative was the poet Tristan Tzara and in the plastic arts the artist Marcel Duchamp.

Neoplasticism (1917)

He was part of one of the currents of geometric abstraction. He stripped art of all accessory elements, eliminating the curved line in all its manifestations and applying the cubist grid, reduced to horizontal and vertical lines that enclose pure color (primary colors).

Its popularizing organ was the magazine De Stijl , founded by Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg. Among its main representatives were also Wilmos Huszar, Georges Vantongerloo, Jacobus Johannes Pieter Oud and Gerrit Thomas Rietvel.

Creationism (1916)

Creationism was a Spanish-American literary movement promoted by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro. This movement conceives of the writer or poet as a kind of creator god, whose words are not intended to be significant but to be endowed with aesthetic value. Therefore, they are exempt from serving the principle of likelihood. This constituted a break with the poetic tradition, in such a way that it established the movement as an avant-garde.

Ultraism (1918)

Ultraism was a literary vanguard inspired by the creationism of Huidobro. It had as its epicenter the country of Spain. One of its most distinguished representatives were Rafael Cansinos Assens, Guillermo de Torre, Oliverio Girondo, Eugenio Montes, Pedro Garfias and Juan Larrea. In Argentina Jorge Luis Borges would be one of its exponents.

Surrealism (1924)

It was a movement born in the interwar period, with a literary and artistic vocation. Like many other avant-gardes, it was born with the publication of the surrealist manifesto written by Andre Breton, who came from the ranks of Dadaism.

It was characterized by exalting the psychoanalytic notions of the unconscious and the subconscious. However, as regards the plastic arts, it was severely criticized for being considered a return to the slavery of content over form.

In literature, figures such as Andre Breton, Louis Aragon and Philippe Soupault stood out. In plastic arts, the artists Salvador Dali, Max Ernst, Rene Magritte and Joan Miro stood out.

Second wave of avant-garde movements

The second wave of avant-garde develops with the end of the Second World War, especially from Abstract Expressionism onwards.

Abstract Expressionism (c. 1940)

Abstract expressionism is a pictorial school whose purpose is the representation of emotions, uncertainty and the problematization of morality through absolute plastic values. It was characterized by exalting the creative process, of which the painting became a testimony, as well as by the appreciation of improvisation and automatism. One of the most used techniques in this movement was action painting (circa 1950), originally implemented by Jackson Pollok. Another important exponent was Clement Greenberg.

Pop art or pop art (c. 1950)

It took its name from the expression “popular art”. It was a reaction against abstract expressionism, accused of being intellectual. He created from images of mass popular interest. Influenced by Dadaism and American trompe l’oeil. He fearlessly used the technique of reproducing emblematic figures of society as well as industrial objects, posters, packaging, comics, traffic signs and other objects. Some of its best known artists were Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol.

Op art, optical art or kineticism (c. 1960)

He resorted to elements of geometric abstractionism based on optical perception. He explored the conditions and possibilities of receptivity typical of the human eye. Hence the importance of the physiology of chromatic combinations, modifications and distortions, as well as the geometric decontextualization and the valuation of the void as a subject of work, all of which was used in order to offer the optical illusion of movement. Some of its greatest exponents were the Hungarian Victor Vasarelly and the Venezuelans Carlos Cruz Diez and Jesus Soto.

Happening (c. 1950)

It was a current that proposed the development of an action planned by the artist in its basic lines, but conditioned by the situation itself, the spontaneous behavior of the actors, the participation of the audience and/or chance. All this was done with the aim of eliminating the borders between art and everyday life. One of its representatives has been Allan Kaprow.

Conceptual art (c. 1960)

It is an artistic current that privileges the concept over the real object. Born around 1960. By means of this gesture, the artist eliminates the mediation of the art critic, to become the one who explains his work. One of its best known representatives has been Yoko Ono.

Performance (circa 1960)

It is a current that seeks to “represent” an action live before an audience. You can also consider a certain event as a work of art in itself. Often includes improvisation. One of its most distinguished representatives was the Fluxus Movement.

Hyperrealism (c. 1960)

He tried to reproduce reality more exactly than what the eye itself can see. He was also related to photorealism. He was characterized by descriptive verismo, photographic visuality and academic language. Some prominent exponents were Audry Flack and Malcolm Morley.

Minimalism (c. 1970)

He reacted against the hedonism of Pop Art as much as against Abstract Expressionism. He preferred sculpture as a manifestation. His works were defined as structures or systems in which elementary geometric forms and rudimentary materials predominated. He wanted the interaction of the works with the environment, the accentuation of voids and spaces and the maximum sobriety. Some exponents are Carl Andre and Ruth Vollmer.

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