I am exultant to engage in a captivating discourse centered upon the profound insights of Octavio Paz, an eminent figure who traversed the realms of modernity and artistry with remarkable dexterity. With your gracious permission, allow me to embark upon a stimulating expedition that delves into Paz’s sagacious observation from the mid-sixties. It is with eloquence that he asserted that the neo-avant-garde movement of 1967, in all its audacious manifestations, resounds with echoes and imitations of the actions and gestures exhibited by its predecessor, the avant-garde of 1917. Together, let us scrutinize the intricacies inherent within this statement and explore the manifold dimensions of Paz’s discerning insight.

To truly apprehend Paz’s observation, it is paramount that we first grasp the essence and significance of the avant-garde within the context of modernity. Originating from French military parlance, the term “avant-garde” was adopted to depict the vanguard or forefront of artistic and cultural movements. Such movements, driven by a desire to challenge established norms and redefine the boundaries of artistic expression, aimed to propel society forward by infusing it with new perspectives and sensibilities. By subjecting prevailing norms and traditions to scrutiny, the avant-garde sought to advance society by interrogating and reshaping the existing artistic landscape.

Paz, endowed with a discerning intellect and profound insight, astutely recognized that the neo-avant-garde of 1967 was not an independent entity, but rather a product of historical continuity. It was palpably influenced by the avant-garde of 1917, which emerged as a response to the cataclysmic events of the First World War. The avant-garde of 1917, epitomized by the artistic movements of Dadaism and Surrealism, revolted against the stifling social, political, and artistic conventions of its time. Instead, it embraced chaos, spontaneity, and the depths of the subconscious, vehemently rejecting the rationality and order that had precipitated the ravages of warfare.

By the time 1967 arrived, the world had undergone profound transformations. Although the neo-avant-garde movements that emerged during this era, such as Pop Art and Conceptual Art, appeared distinct and original, Paz discerned that they mirrored the actions and gestures of the earlier avant-garde. Similar to their forerunners, the neo-avant-garde of 1967 aimed to challenge and subvert prevailing norms, rebelling against the established societal, political, and artistic structures, albeit employing varying strategies and instruments.

Paz’s assertion compels us to explore the underlying continuities and shared motivations inherent in these two avant-garde movements. Both endeavors sought to dismantle the constraining structures that hindered genuine artistic freedom. Recognizing the potency of shock, irony, and the unconventional in challenging societal norms and exposing the hypocrisies and contradictions of their respective epochs, both the avant-garde of 1917 and 1967 disrupted the comfortable status quo. By transgressing boundaries and interrogating the very foundations of art, they paved the way for new artistic paradigms.

Furthermore, Paz’s observation impels us to contemplate the cyclical nature of history and the interconnections among artistic movements across time. Operating as an inherently forward-looking force, the avant-garde resides within a dialectic of innovation and tradition. While each manifestation of the avant-garde is shaped by its specific historical context, it is also imbued with the legacy and remnants of its precursors. The actions and gestures of the avant-garde from 1917 resonated throughout the artistic landscape, leaving an indelible mark upon subsequent generations.

The neo-avant-garde of 1967 is characterized by a dynamic interplay of homage and divergence. Artists of this era paid homage to their predecessors by adopting and reinterpreting their techniques and philosophies. They absorbed the radical spirit of the earlier avant-garde while concurrently forging novel paths and confronting modern challenges. This synthesis of veneration and innovation enabled the neo-avant-garde of 1967 to attain a delicate equilibrium between historical continuity and creative evolution.

Moreover, Paz’s observation impels us to question the very notion of avant-garde progress. Paz challenges the presumption that artistic movements ought to inexorably progress toward greater novelty and departure from the past. Instead, he posits that the avant-garde follows a nonlinear progression, engaging in a continuous dialogue between the past and the present. The avant-garde’s actions and gestures are not discarded; rather, they are repurposed, reinvented, and reinvigorated, infusing the artistic discourse with renewed vitality.

Emerging in the wake of the First World War, during a period marked by profound disillusionment and shattered beliefs, the avant-garde of 1917 emerged as a reaction to the horrors of war, the mechanization of society, and the oppressive structures that had precipitated such devastation. Artists of this era, including proponents of Dadaism and Surrealism, embraced the irrational, the absurd, and the recesses of the subconscious. Their aim was to dismantle established artistic conventions and challenge the very foundations of rationality and reason. Through their performances, manifestos, and unconventional artworks, they sought to shock and provoke, thereby disturbing the prevailing status quo and rousing society from its slumber.

By 1967, the world had once again undergone significant transformation. Neo-avant-garde movements, such as Pop Art and Conceptual Art, inherited the spirit of rebellion and iconoclasm from their predecessors. However, they expressed their creativity and energy through diverse mediums and techniques. Pop Art, with its vibrant and consumerist imagery, appropriated and recontextualized mass culture within the realm of fine art. Seeking to demystify the elitism of high art, it tested the boundaries between popular culture and high culture. In contrast, Conceptual Art shifted the emphasis from the art object itself to the idea behind it. It underscored the significance of intellectual engagement and questioned conventional notions of craftsmanship and aesthetics.

Paz’s observation regarding the repetition of actions and gestures does not suggest mere imitation or replication. Instead, it underscores the fundamental motivations and principles that propelled both avant-garde movements. The avant-garde of 1917 and 1967 share a desire to challenge established norms, a quest for artistic freedom, and the use of shock and provocation as subversive tools. The avant-garde evolves and demonstrates its transformative power through the reinterpretation and adaptation of these principles to the specific contexts and challenges of each era.

Furthermore, Paz’s observation encourages us to contemplate the cyclical nature of cultural and artistic movements. Though specific manifestations and techniques may vary, the underlying spirit of rebellion and innovation remains constant. Each avant-garde movement incorporates and transforms the actions and gestures of its predecessors, building upon their triumphs and failures. This process of reinvention ensures the avant-garde’s ongoing relevance and responsiveness to the ever-changing sociopolitical and cultural landscapes.

By acknowledging the continuity between the avant-garde of 1917 and 1967, we cultivate a deeper appreciation for the evolution of artistic expression. The avant-garde is not a static entity confined to a particular time or place; rather, it transcends temporal boundaries as a force that persists and endures. It represents an ongoing inquiry, an unwavering pursuit of new possibilities and alternative perspectives.

May Octavio Paz’s profound insights continue to inspire and motivate us as we navigate the perpetually shifting terrain of the artistic world.

Octavio Paz, “Presence and present. Baudelaire art critic” (Mexico)
Peter Bürger, “Theory of the Avant-Garde” (Germany)
Renato Poggioli, “The Theory of the Avant-Garde” (Italy)
Hal Foster, “The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century” (United States)
Clement Greenberg, “Art and Culture: Critical Essays” (United States)
John Roberts, “The Intangibilities of Form: Skill and Deskilling in Art after the Readymade” (United Kingdom)
Arthur C. Danto, “After the End of Art: Contemporary Art and the Pale of History” (United States)
T.J. Clark, “Farewell to an Idea: Episodes from a History of Modernism” (United States)
David Hopkins, “Dada’s Boys: Identity and Play in the Art of the 1960s” (United Kingdom)
Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, “Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry: Essays from 1955 to 1975” (Germany/United States)
Carolyn L. Kane, “Chromatic Algorithms: Synthetic Color, Computer Art, and Aesthetics after Code” (United States)