Bulbous Marauder, by Enrico David (Photograph: Courtesy Galerie Daniel Buchholz, Berlin)

We’re in the season of the new. As the Turner Prize exhibition opens, and Regent’s Park squirrels quake at the imminent arrival of the Frieze art fair, it seems that art’s rage for revolution is as passionate as it was 100 years ago when Picasso was dismantling reality. If there’s one thing history has taught us, it is that only a fool pronounces the obituary of the avant garde.

In the 1980s, there were fools galore. It seemed obvious to most pundits that “modernism” was over and avant-gardism – the idea of art as radical dissent, utopian imagination, and terrifying novelty – lay in the grave with Manet. When, by the later 80s, artists again started acting like they were an avant garde – disorienting spectators with a lake of black oil, and soon after that a concrete house – theorists reached for elaborate terms like “neo-avant garde” to understand what was going on.


Jonathan Jones