On Being takes an exploratory look at how the avant-garde is a reflection of one’s own humanity. Originally a military term used to describe soldiers who moved ahead of the front lines, “avant-garde” translates directly to “advance guard.” In a historical context, art of the avant-garde challenges conventional society, culture, and artistic practices through content or material exploration. One of the most compelling qualities of the avant-garde is that it is always changing, yet we can still look back and observe its evolution over time. Work that was avant-garde over one hundred years ago, such as that of Edouard Manet or Paul Cezanne, resonates with work by Roy Lichtenstein or Andy Warhol–two artists included in On Being.
In his 1863 essay, “The Painter of Modern Life,” French poet and critic Charles Baudelaire asserts that what makes a work of art “modern” is a nuanced combination of both the eternal and the transitory. Baudelaire states, “Modernity is the transitory, the fugitive, the contingent, which make up one half of art, the other being the eternal and the immutable.” Art of the avant-garde reminds us of what it means to be human in an ever-changing world. The “eternal” element is a human essence–an innate quality shared by all human beings that transcends time. The “transitory” refers to how human beings change–our will to innovate as we progress over time.
For the exhibition, works were pulled from the Berman Museum’s diverse permanent collection that reflect the avant-garde as eternal and transitory. On Being uses work from 1900 through 1980 to explore the shared natures of art and humanity, confronting us with the avant-garde and demanding that we see ourselves in it.
TEDDI CAPUTO, Curator
Ursinus Class of 2018