Walker Art Center

    1. French for “advanced guard.” Originally a military term referring to a troop of highly skilled and specialized soldiers who served the function of surveying a field before the advancement of a larger army, it has been widely used to refer to innovative, experimental, creative acts and thinking of intellectuals, artists, and even politicians. In the modern era the term became closely associated with more radical breaks effected within the terrain of modernism, more specifically tendencies that are “art for art’s sake” and that question the very notions of creativity and authorship to the extent of sometimes even producing “antiart” gestures (see DADA).

    Historically the avant-garde rejected the autonomy of “high culture” modernism, which it saw as the culture of the bourgeoisie, and attempted to nullify the distinction between the spheres of art and life. In other words, the avant-garde project saw itself as more than an aesthetic one but one aimed at transforming the whole social sphere, of which art is only a part or manifestation.

    2. Xiamen Dada, the artists’ collective that Huang Yong Ping helped found in the mid-1980s in his hometown of Xiamen (see Fei Dawei’s essay “Two-Minute Wash Cycle: Huang Yong Ping’s Chinese Period,” in this volume), may be said to have been an almost classical example of the avant-garde in terms of its radical gestures intended to question the definition of art itself. In his own practice, Huang also made a concerted effort to relinquish originality and authorship, the founding notions of modernism, by utilizing roulette wheels and divination methods such as I CHING, leaving much of the decision-making to CHANCE.
    The House of Oracles (1989–1992) gives form to the etymological root of the word avant-garde. The artist’s studio is thus imagined as a military tent, in which the artist/strategist plans his next moves by means of various oracular devices. Less a site of production than a space of revelation, the work turns the very term avant-garde on its head, replacing determined action with equivocation.

    Concepts, Influences & Motifs
    The House of Oracles