State Avant-Gardes (Spain 1928-2008): Experimental Aesthetics/ Mainstream Politics

Syllabus

What has been the complex relationship between Avant-Garde Aesthetics and the State in Contemporary Spain? How does cultural policy mediate the message of the aesthetic work? What happens when the institutional “uses” and framings of art and literature appropriate innovation and critique? How does the artist or the writer negotiate the visibility of his work in contexts of explicit or implicit political repression? What is the role and responsibility of the artist in processes of cultural and political agency?

Already in 1860, Baudelaire’s resistance to the concept of Avant-Garde came from his perception of the movement as essentially paradoxical, at once inconformist and disciplined, radically critical and prone to propaganda purposes. The focus of this course is a parallel dialectic present in the circulation of Avant-Garde works in the Spanish context: that between intended inconformity and political critique on the one hand and (often involuntary) complicity or even support for the state, on the other. From the direct link between Avant-Garde Aesthetics and the Falangist elites at the birth of Spanish Fascism to the institutional uses of Avant-Garde literature, cinema, art or architecture both under Francoism and democracy, this course traces the modes of institutional incorporation of resistant aesthetics, the ways in which cultural policies frame and mediate works quite often conceived from a perspective of radical political critique and innovation. In the hands of the state, the avant-garde work of art becomes a coveted commodity for its use value as “national icon” in the international arena or a way to funnel and contain internal opposition substituting culture for politics. Simultaneously, we will study the strategies by means of which a “critical” Avant-Garde negotiates visibility, agency and critique both in contexts of repression and (apparent) political pluralism.

Using a theoretical frame that combines classical accounts of the relationship between Avant-Garde works and their authors with power (Adorno, Gramsci, Ranciére, Bürger, Jameson…) and the ambiguous mechanisms of cultural policy (Miller, Yúdice, Throsby, Ross, Marzo…), this course will focus on Avant-Garde movements such as Surrealism, literary “Tremendismo”, Abstract informalism, New Spanish Cinema, “Nueva Figuración” or Avant-Garde Architecture at the turn of the XXIst Century.

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