Fusion and the Avant-Garde

Author: Michael Chapman


In his 1974 work, Theory of the Avant-Garde, Peter Bürger developed a sociological argument that the practices of the historical avant-garde had emerged as a fusion of art and life, merging practices into a hybrid assault on autonomy that can be characterized as distinctly avant-garde. Refuting previous positions, Bürger argued that the avant-garde wasn’t concerned with merely dismantling the classifications of art, but the institution of art in its entirety. This was dramatically opposed to Clement Greenberg’s hegemonic theory of art practice, where the segregated medium was the sole attribute through which the avant-garde could advance. It was in opposition to this diffusion of art practice that Bürger’s theory framed a radicalized lens through which the avant-garde could be reconceptualised: combatting the segregation of medium with a deliberate fusing of the structures of art and their political and social histories. This paper will look at the significant role fusion, as a strategy, plays in Bürger’s seminal work and its reception. It is the recognition of fusion as an oppositional system in art production that not only distinguishes his approach from early incarnations of modernism, but has also seen the extension of his work into ongoing critical projects in art theory in America, which have radicalised fusion as a critical and creative practice.

Fusion and the Avant-Garde

When Peter Bürger wrote his short but influential Theory of the Avant-Garde in 1974 he was writing in a cultural climate of immense change where many of the structures and institutions of modernism were being violently torn apart. Frustrated with the failures of the May 1968 riots in Paris [95] and committed to extending the Marxist dialectic of the Frankfurt School, Bürger’s treatise is written partly out of disgust with the rampant commoditisation of the art market and partly out of a personal need to document the unprecedented historical transformations that were occurring in front of him. Bürger drew heavily from the aesthetic positions of Georg Lukacs, Theodor Adorno and Walter Benjamin that had presciently linked the practices of art with those of capitalist production thereby demonstrating the revolutionary potential and limitations of the autonomous art object. For Adorno in particular, the category of art raised important and unprecedented questions in relationship to cultural production, and foreshadowed the inherent commercialisation with which capitalism and autonomy were intertwined. However, Bürger’s thesis goes beyond the social philosophy of art and its critical reception in order to sketch a historical framework for the avant-garde and an ideological critique of its tactics.

Bürger’s subject matter is not new. By 1974, theorising the avant-garde had been a fascination of critics for over four decades and had been somewhat of a preoccupation in American art theory and particularly within the formalist circle of Clement Greenberg and his followers. The point of departure for Bürger’s Theory of the Avant-Garde was its insistence on developing a radicalised historical structure for studies of the avant-garde, positioning the avant-gardes of the 1910s and 1920s as the origin of radical art and all subsequent activity as a derivation of this initial and most pure revolutionary form. Bürger rejected the more heavily trodden path of theorising the avant-garde in dialectical opposition to the popular (or kitsch). Instead, Bürger conceptualised the avant-garde as a distinct historical phenomenon, peculiar to the first decades of the twentieth century and in opposition to the bourgeois aesthetic practices that were, in his view, rampant in the historical periods either side of it.

Bürger’s argument is relatively straightforward. He argued that a process of institutionalising art had occurred in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries and this had led to the gentrification of art and the isolation of its inherently bourgeois audience [35-54]. In this sense, he follows the earlier precedents of Adorno and Benjamin, who drew a distinction between “organic” and “nonorganic” artworks: the former being associated with the bourgeois structures intrinsic to the production of art and meaning and the latter with the category of avant-gardiste works characterised by fragmentation and a collapse of the structures of holistic meaning. Bürger maintained that the radical creative approaches of the first decades of the twentieth century were an attempt to both identify and dismantle this institutionalisation of art, attacking the bourgeois gentrification of art process and, ultimately, realigning creativity with the experience of modern life. In short, the historical avant-garde attacked the autonomy of the art object and its institutionalisation and conflated the categories of art and life. For Bürger this meant that the history of the avant-garde needed to be distinguished from the broader history of modernism.

Bürger and Greenberg

Fusion operates at a number of levels in Bürger’s theory. Not only is the fusion between art and life framed as a central aim of avant-gardism’s assault on autonomy, but the fusion of creative practices into a hybrid critical practice is a characteristic of the avant-garde of the 1920s and its ongoing influence. There is no doubt that Bürger’s theory challenged the prevailing attitudes towards avant-garde practice, and particularly those advanced in the formalism of Clement Greenberg, who saw the avant-garde as a taxonomy of independent, and highly individuated strategies, which challenged the inherent structures of their medium but nothing beyond. The tension between Greenberg’s depoliticized approach, and Bürger’s highly ideological one, has had an enduring influence on American art theory, marking a paradigm shift in attitudes towards early modernism [Carrier]. Greenberg had arrived at an attitude towards the avant-garde in response to a number of contextual (and continental) debates within art in the interwar period, where both the identity and agency of American art was being challenged. Not only did Greenberg align the avant-garde with the radical aesthetic experiments of Abstract Expressionism but, at the same time, accepted an inherently bourgeoisie complexion to the art market which was especially exaggerated in America at the time. For Greenburg, art was defined by its articulation of process and any agency it possessed was constrained to the medium within which it operated. This amounted to a diffusion of art practices into highly determined categories of production which not only accepted the conventions of traditional art history but, in a number of ways, set out to inoculate them. Greenberg’s modernism comprised a phalanx of diverse artistic strategies that independently set out to reconstruct the social and technological patterns of the twentieth century, by entrenching and preserving the artistic categories of the nineteenth century.

The early 1970s, when Bürger’s theory first appeared, had witnessed a discernible fragmentation of American art criticism and the two recognizable and public defenders of Clement Greenberg’s “modernism”—Rosalind Krauss and Michael Fried—had both taken alternate paths: Fried to pursue a career in art history rather than criticism; Krauss to abandon the ideas of Greenberg altogether in order to dismantle the premise of formalism through a detailed reading of French post-structuralism and a radical rethinking of the project of modernism. The careers of Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland and even Frank Stella—the second wave of American formalism featured famously in the Three American Painters exhibition—had begun to wane and the anti-institutional forays of both Minimalism and Conceptual Art were dramatically restructuring the New York art market and the intellectual apparatus that supported it. At the same time, the site-specific works that came to characterize the art of the 1970s had deliberately encroached on the disciplinary boundaries of architecture, causing critics, including Krauss, to investigate the “expanded field” in which art operates [276-290].

Greenberg’s enormous stewardship of American art theory in the decades after the Second World War and the skewed emphasis on a “diffused” formalism served to enlarge the disciplinary boundaries between painting, sculpture and architecture, at a time when these practices were pursuing a project of greater alignment. Greenberg’s entrenched segregation of the categories of artistic production are an extension of bourgeois aesthetic practices and have limited the productive avenues through which these practices have otherwise been contained. It is in this area, that the writings centred around the journal October and its editors have been instrumental in expanding upon Bürger’s theory of avant-garde practice and extending its relevance to a broader audience of critical theory [Carrier; Siedell].

If Bürger’s works radically repositioned the concept of fusion in relationship to art, it was in dialectical response to the fragmentation and demarcation implicit in Greenburg’s theory. Written in 1939, Clement Greenberg’s “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” is one of the formative texts in the study of the avant-garde and occupies a critical starting point in its theorisation. While often considered the foundational text of American formalism, the text is highly politicized and presented an argument that was a direct response to the intellectual conditions of the emerging New York art scene, harbouring a deep-seated parochialism that had, as its goal, the dethroning of European art and the political structures that had underpinned it. However, the broader context of Greenberg’s thinking was what Serge Guilbaut has referred to as the “de-Marxification of the New York intelligentsia,” [63] which saw a dramatic shift away from the left and towards the values of neo-conservatism [See: Cooney; Wald]. At the heart of this shift was the writing of Meyer Shapiro who, in the 1937 essay “Nature of Abstract Art” [77-98] argued for a moderate positioning of abstract art that was no longer the by-product of an elitist individualism (as the communists had claimed) but was tied to the conditions of economic production and social infrastructure. As a result, Schapiro saw the individual artist as hopelessly immersed in the broader current of society, helpless and lethargic in the face of its mounting pressures and certainly not in the possession of the agency for revolutionary cultural transformation. Trotsky echoed this fatalistic position in his 1938 text “Art and Politics” published in Partisan Review [310]. Arguing that the work of art was the solitary vessel through which creative thought should be explored, Trotsky maintained that the radical work of art, by inspiring those who had contact with it, had the potential to restructure the economic and cultural foundations of a society provided that artists preserved their autonomy (from society) and had a social conscience which was liberated from the machinery of capitalism [see Taminiaux 52-66]. This was not so much a fusion between art and life, but an embedded cultural milieu, which the artist had to both endure and resist.

Greenberg took the fusing of art and society implicit in the writing of Trotsky and Schapiro as a point of departure, framing an alternative perspective which, rather than advancing a fusion between art with the proletariat, understood the role of the artist as the prevention of popular annihilation (through segregation). Where Trotsky and Breton had argued that the independent artist was the solitary defense against the prevailing specter of capitalism, Greenberg argued that the avant-garde was culture’s only defense against the popular and, most specifically, the kitsch. For Greenberg, the avant-garde project was drawn not from the needs of the proletariat but from the desires of the bourgeoisie [5]. As Greenberg writes,

a part of Western bourgeoisie society has produced something unheard of heretofore—avant-garde culture. A superior consciousness of history—more precisely, the appearance of a new kind of criticism of society, an historical criticism—made this possible… it was no accident therefore that the birth of the avant-garde coincided chronologically—and geographically too—with the first bold development of scientific revolutionary thought in Europe [5].

In direct and deliberate contradiction to the theory of Trotsky, Greenberg positioned the avant-garde as the salvation of a fragmenting culture, which could only be restored through the medium specific advances of high art. Guilbaut [67] has shown that the publication of “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” coincided with both the Soviet invasion of Finland and their signing of a non-aggression pact with the Germans which both had a dramatic effect on the perception of communism in America. There was also a paradigmatic shift in the intellectual culture of New York with the splintering of the (Stalinist) American Artist’s Conference and the subsequent migration of a number of its members (including Schapiro) to the more moderate Federation of American Painters and Sculptors. This apparent diffusion of the American intelligentsia created a theoretical culture of connection, which saw to advance art as a marrying of disparate and often warring cultural and creative forces. Within all of these maneuverings was the need to create a synthesis between a new language of abstract art and a viable form of social praxis led by a rejuvenated theory of modern art. Greenberg’s essay fulfilled this criteria exactly, preserving the artistic (and elitist) autonomy of art while at the same time establishing an idealised role for the artist in rebuilding society, rather than revolutionising it. This depoliticisation of art became one of the defining characteristics of formalism and was central to the growth of the decontextualising aesthetics that characterised Abstract Expressionism [See S. Foster 20-24].


While fusion is implicit in the positions of both Greenburg and Bürger, it would be difficult to find two more antithetical theorists of avant-garde practice. While Greenberg had corresponded with Adorno on friendly terms [see: Franscina 4] his position could not be more opposed to the Marxist leanings of the Frankfurt school or the emphasis on negation that structured it. Where Greenberg positioned avant-garde practice as an inherently aristocratic pursuit, enabled through the robust autonomy of the institution of art, Bürger saw the avant-garde project as the collapse of the institution of art and the alignment of art with the praxis of (proletariat) life through an artist-led fusion of artistic processes and life experiences. Greenberg proselytized the singularity of media; praising painting for its inherent flatness, sculpture for its implied three-dimensionality; architecture, for its requisite spatiality. For Greenberg, artists should be developing representational strategies that are internal to the medium of painting, rather than extraneous to it and there was no possibility for intermarriage between independent mediums. Bürger, on the other hand, saw a primary characteristic of the avant-garde as the collapse of medium, and its dispersal into fragments that are imperfectly reassembled by the viewer and the society that houses them. This required interpretive modes that were beyond the medium of art and engaged the praxis of life, with the aim of ultimately transforming society and the behavior of its inhabitants. Where Greenberg heavily criticized surrealism and virtually dismissed Dada as agents of avant-garde strategies, Bürger [104] saw Dada and surrealism as the primary authentic form of the avant-garde and its enduring legacy.

While Greenberg had argued for a return to medium, Bürger [109] considers that, by marginalising the historical medium and its categorisations altogether, Dada and surrealism had initiated a larger critique of the institution of art itself. He argues that the fusing tactics of Dada and surrealism imply a redefinition of the nature of art, as well as questioning the work of art as the primary outcome of this process. Well beyond an argument about technique, Burger had argued that the avant-garde was inherently involved in a fusion of the praxis of life and, as a result, the tactics of Dada and surrealism (devoid of aesthetic content) were indicative of the primary operations of the avant-garde, which sought a politicization of artistic production and a transformation of the social roles that had been assigned to it.

Greenberg took a fundamentally different view of Dada and surrealism, aligning it with the populist machinations of kitsch and arguing that “works of art are self-sufficient and not required inevitably to be either mirrors of reality or decoration” [1986 131]. In a later essay entitled “Avant-Garde Attitudes: New Art in the Sixties” [1993 292-303] Greenberg had argued against the reification of art that had been initiated by Duchamp, by dividing avant-garde practice into two distinct categories: “the popular avant-garde” which he rebuked and “the unpopular” avant-garde which he gravitated towards. For Greenberg, the unpopular avant-garde “was the real and original one” [301] and the tactics of Dada in particular were a counter-attack, motivated by “a retreat from ‘difficult’ to ‘easy’ art” [301]. The inherent fusion implied within Duchamp’s project was no doubt a critical junction in Greenberg’s ambivalence towards it.

The entrenched categorization and segregation of Greenberg’s aesthetics is of significance as it serves to articulate a dialectical counterpoint to the theory of Bürger. The categories of Greenberg’s theory of the avant-garde are essentially a continuation of the bourgeois aesthetics that Bürger’s theory attempts to dismantle. As Robert Somol [21] observes, there is an inherent ambiguity in the categories of Greenberg’s theory which positions the “high-modern” as an avant-garde practice while a number of the important mechanisms of the historical avant-garde (including surrealism) are pejoratively given the label of “kitsch”. Bürger’s theory, on the contrary, is aligned with the politicisation of the art object in the 1920s and the development of expanded categories through which art is produced and, as importantly, received. In Bürger’s writing modernism and the avant-garde are distinct trajectories concerned with autonomy (in the former) and a reconnection with life (in the latter). Fusion is an undercurrent in both aspects [see: Calinescu 140].

The emphasis that Greenberg placed on the bourgeois origins of avant-garde art (marked as a continuation of the nineteenth century experimentations of Impressionism), as well as the preoccupation with a narrowly focused obsession with painting (as the primary form through which avant-garde tactics were expressed) were two significant points that Bürger’s theory of the avant-garde sought to oppose in the historicisation of art practice. For Bürger, these formalist cues were the polemical triggers that structured his dialectical hypothesis: the avant-garde was a historical phenomenon, defined by its opposition to the bourgeois institutionalisation of art and the autonomy of artistic production; the avant-gardiste work of art, as a negation of artistic production, was defined by its opposition to the established aesthetic categories of institutional aesthetics and, as a result, required the formulation of new ones. In tandem, these twin strategies required the formation of the concept of the “avant-garde” as a response to the paradigmatic shifting of categories that they initiated.

That there is an inherent positivism to Bürger’s relationship to the historical avant-garde has been a subject of recent criticism and can be juxtaposed with the rampant nihilism with which Adorno saw aesthetics, and its commodification, more generally. While Bürger operated within the broader discourse of the Frankfurt School, there is no doubt that he redeemed and, to some extent, romanticised avant-garde practice and to an extent far beyond the contemporaneous Marxist critiques of artistic production such as the “bleakest” and “implacably negative” critique of Tafuri, as Jameson was to later label it [60-63]. This should not overlook Bürger’s clear conclusion that the historical avant-garde has failed, and its assault on the commercial institutionalisation of art only served to highlight, rather than refute, the bourgeoisie fetishisation of the work of art which has continued unabated since the 1920s. As Bürger noted in a recent essay, it was not the end of (bourgeois) art but in fact its opposite—its indoctrination. As Bürger concedes,

[t]he institution demonstrates its strength by embracing its attackers and assigns them a prominent place in the pantheon of great artists. Indeed, the impact of the failed avant-garde extends even further. After Duchamp, not only can the everyday artefact claim the status of an artwork but the discourse of the institution is molded by the avant-gardes to a degree that no one could have predicted. Avant-garde categories such as rupture and shock gain admittance to the discourse of art, while at the same time concepts such as harmony and coherence are suspected of conveying a false appearance and a reconciliation with a degraded status quo [2010, 705].

The implied positivism of Bürger’s proselytization of the historical avant-garde is with a detailed awareness of both its limitations and its susceptibility to commercial appropriation. While Greenburg saw the avant-garde’s isolation from populism as its primary strength in regards to cultural direction, Bürger was more than aware of its susceptibility to forces of mass-consumerism, if not to the same extent with which Adorno had defined them.


The project of aligning avant-garde ambitions with a fusing of creative practices in Bürger’s theory has been met enthusiastically within art theory in the United States, where a rigorous exploration of hybrid artistic practice has replaced the formalist hegemony of Greenberg since the 1970s, and provides a natural counterpoint to the segregation of high modernism.  In fact, Bürger’s treatise has been the focus of much fascination for the group of art theorists gathered around the journal October and who, anxious to reignite research into the historical avant-garde have, typically, used Bürger’s theory critically to facilitate their own interest in re-framing this connection with contemporary art. Not surprisingly, it has been the same circle of critics that have been the most aggressive and forthright in interrogating Bürger’s work as well as expanding upon its theoretical preconceptions in order to frame a post-Greenbergian methodology for the study of both art and its history. As will be seen, fusion is a critical and recurring theme within this reception of Bürger’s work.

While it is important not to conflate the writings linked to the circle of October too much, constituting the parallax views of a number of independent (and highly individualistic) writers and thinkers, it is clear that there is an editorial perspective that runs through its various publications and a commonality in subject matter [see: Siedell, 95-105] that unites the various editors (as well as a number of its authors). The 2004 publication of Art Since 1900, under the co-authorship of Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yve Alain Bois and Benjamin Buchloh is the best evidence yet of the harmonising critical views of these authors and the collaborative force of their larger project to critically redeem the historical avant-garde and establish its presence in the activities of contemporary art. Presenting their own view of modernism by effectively fusing the methodologies of psychoanalysis, sociology, structuralism (linguistics) and post-structuralism (all central to the journal October), it was in response to the publication of this volume that Amelie Jones coined the term “Octoberism” [377], arguing that the collaborative efforts of these authors had assumed the force of a hegemony: effectively providing a platform from which a selective reading of art history (and modernism) was being projected [see also: Storr 382-385; Batchen 375-376; Troy 373-375; Lee 379-381].

One of the frustrations for historians of the alternative histories of art and modernism is the focus that the Octoberist critics have placed on the historical avant-garde and, in particular, the work of Peter Bürger. Jones, for instance, laments the methodological approach of these critics who frequently base their “value judgements” in art on “an early-twentieth-century conception of avant-gardism, reinforced and refined […] by Peter Burger’s arguments in his 1974 Theory of the Avant-Garde” [Jones 378]. However, even beyond the thematic fascination with the historical avant-garde is a methodological affiliation with Bürger’s approach, which privileges the work of art and its production over social diversity, equality or human experience. Critical of the neglect of contextual issues relating to colonialism, gender and conflict, Jones argues that

these authors haven’t let go of an essentially modernist belief in the connection between the work (“structurally” interpreted) and the artist as an originary force of meaning and value, and because they fail to interrogate their own participation in the posing of value judgments and in the positioning of origins and authors […their work], while brilliant and innovative in its analyses and structural organization, baldly reveals the conservatism of Octoberism as a hegemonic discourse [378].

The opposition to this critical hegemony notwithstanding, there is an undisputed meditation within the circle of October critics that has unpacked and advanced the writing of Bürger, focusing particularly on the fusing of artistic medium with which he was most preoccupied. The most celebrated and enduring critique of Bürger’s argument was by Benjamin Buchloh, interleaved between rampant gallery advertisements in the glossy pulp pages of Art in America [1984 19-21]. While Buchloh took issue with a number of aspects of Bürger’s argument, his primary criticisms were twofold. First of all, Bürger had constructed a theory of the avant-garde that positioned all radical activity in historical relationship to the original avant-garde. For Buchloh, this was a devaluation of contemporary practice and represented an inability to recognise the creative potential of the present. Secondly, Bürger’s theory presumed that the intention and motivation of all artistic activity was political and thereby failed to acknowledge the possibility of engaging other fields that the art-object may impact upon. In this sense, Buchloh saw Bürger’s theory as part of a broader Frankfurt School pessimism that was inherently and robustly critical of the present and ideologically opposed to its capitalist allegiances. For Buchloh, there was certainly no prerequisite that art needed to be political and, in a number of cases, art was deliberately opposed to politics (anti-political). Buchloh establishes a less linear model of historical evolution whereby the positivistic values of the historical avant-garde are no longer the “origin” of art and its nihilistic collapse in the neo-avant-garde is no longer its endpoint.

Buchloh’s most strident critique of Bürger’s work is, fittingly, anchored to notions of fusion. Clearly Buchloh takes issue with the overwhelming pessimism that is characteristic of Bürger’s concluding remarks, where the opportunities first articulated by the avant-garde had not only failed but had also been appropriated by the institutions and social structures against which they were directed. Buchloh, in contrast, arrives at a vastly different conclusion, arguing that

the assault on the false isolation of art and on the ideology of its autonomy by the “original” avant-garde cannot be abandoned simply because it was aborted. It seems more viable to define avant-garde practice as a continually renewed struggle over the definition of cultural meaning, the discovery and representation of new audiences, and the development of new strategies to counteract and develop resistance against the tendency of ideological apparatuses of the culture industry to occupy and to control all practices and all spaces of representation [21].

Both Bürger and Buchloh, in their own ways, have been integrated in the English language reception of Theory of the Avant-Garde, tacitly accepting the thrust of Bürger’s argument with the necessary clarifications, readjustments, and contextualisations that were illustrated by Buchloh [2003, xxiv], and later rebutted by Bürger [2010, 695-715]. Within the peculiar context of New York art criticism generally, Bürger’s ideas have become a seminal starting point from which to project a rejuvenated role for the avant-garde in contemporary culture, and one framed by the fusion of competing cultural and artistic positions. Hal Foster is one of the most important examples, structuring a large part of his research on the contemporary relevance of the historical avant-garde and the shifts in its critical reception. In his book The Return of the Real he develops a more moderate stance towards the binary positions of Buchloh and Bürger and, in a critical sense, advances the position of both. While acknowledging, in the endnotes, his debt to Buchloh [2001 230], Foster’s work uses Bürger’s thesis as the point of departure for reinvigorating the practices of the neo-avant-garde and their broader relationship to the history of art and architecture. His process amounts to a fusing of critical practices across time as well as in relationship to each other. To understand the relationship of these practices to broader ideas in art history Foster stresses the importance of perspective, both of the artist and, across a distance of several decades, the critic. Within Foster’s work, fusion is framed as a historical condition that is embodied, to a large extent, by artist, critic and viewer.

After identifying the contextual flaws in Bürger’s selective and linear historical reading of the avant-garde, Foster presents an alternate model for understanding this fusing of creative practices, which is not the nihilistic end of art, but instead the emergence of new forms of critical practice which are responding to different and ephemeral conditions in broader culture. The neo-avant-garde of the 1960s, for Foster at least, didn’t replicate the historical avant-garde but reappropriated it to develop new hybrid practices of critical activity. These practices were inherently excluded from the narrowing structures of Greenberg in the 1950s and, partially as a result, have provided a suitable counterpoint in both art practice and art theory. For Foster at least, the neo-avant-garde represents a continuation of these practices in a new critical context that, by targeting cultural values outside of the domain or art, is “enact[ing] its project for the first time” [2001 20].

The other critical aspect of Foster’s argument is that the historical avant-garde was far less organised, strategic, or even legible than Bürger assumes and, for Foster, the activity that occurred in the historic avant-garde was a project that was fundamentally disrupted and inherently incomplete. Ironically, it is the tendency of Bürger to overstate the fusion of practices within the avant-garde, that has given his work extended relevance into the twenty-first century. Drawing from the Freudian concept of deferral, Foster argues that it was with an understanding of this latent avant-garde project that the neo-avant-garde developed a revitalised critical practice, reinvigorating the historical avant-garde project and redirecting its tactics against a new target. Despite his own scepticism towards the application of contentious psychoanalytical positions to extra-disciplinary concerns, Bürger is significantly more sympathetic to the critique of Foster in his recent evaluation of critics of his work, describing it as “distinctly more sophisticated” [2010, 708] than the critiques of Buchloh from the 1980s. For Bürger [211], despite the methodological dilemmas implied in this project, Foster’s analysis opens onto a broader question of the “return” of avant-garde practices that, whether internal or extraneous to psychoanalytical techniques, is at the core of his original thesis and, despite the vast literature since, is still yet to be adequately theorised.


If fusion is to be appreciated as a strategy endemic to the avant-garde in the twentieth century, it is only with a conscious awareness of the historical nature of this relationship, that this position can be advanced. The limitation implicit in Bürger’s theory is that, while framing fusion within a broader aesthetic ideology, his work fails to account for the historical and social pressures that inherently transformed this model of practice and ultimately disseminated it to a vast array of media practices that were hungrily absorbing all cultural influences throughout the closing decades of the twenty-first century. Where Greenberg has sought to narrow avant-garde practice to the segregated demands of flatness in painting, Bürger sought to locate the hybridization of art within an exceedingly narrow network of practices from the 1920s. That these practices have accelerated exponentially in art and media since the publication of his work is only further evidence of the prescient role of these fusing tactics as well as Bürger’s niave project to arrest them within this enclosing temporal frame. In this regard, it is through a culturally and temporally specific reading of the work of Bürger, such as that extended in Hal Foster’s work, that the strategy of fusion can be severed from the historical baggage of the 1920s or the ideological conservatism of Greenberg and find a reference point specific to the present, and the media practices that have constructed it.


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Author Biography

Michael Chapman is a Senior Lecturer at the School of Architecture and the Built Environment at the University of Newcastle where he teaches architectural theory, architectural design and research methods.  He has recently completed his PhD on the theories of the avant-garde and their relationship to architecture.  Together with Michael Ostwald and Chris Tucker, his is the author of Residue: Architecture as a Condition of Loss published by RMIT Press in 2007.

Designed by Chris Orchard