'Neo-Dada', 'Junk Aesthetic' and Spectator Participation

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In order to address Hal Foster's description of the "first neo-avant-garde" as a "hysterical" re-enactment of the past, this essay discusses specific themes in the works of 'Neo-dada' artists in New York in the early 1960s, focusing in particular on the reception, practice and concerns of American artists George Brecht, Robert Rauschenberg and Allan Kaprow. The widespread use of so-called 'junk' materials by Neo-dada artists is analysed according to the ways in which different kinds of assemblages articulated oppositions between recognisable objects and trash. Drawing on theoretical reflections about garbage, I suggest that both Rauschenberg and Kaprow were less interested in these oppositions than in the processes of consumption and disposal themselves. Brecht is shown to have explored, for his part, similar notions of mobility and change through a very specific kind of spectator participation. Finally, it is suggested that the use of everyday and throwaway materials, the focus on change and mobility, and the desire to invite a greater involvement on the part of the viewer are all aspects of a common endeavour to explore what Brecht called "the structure of experience". References to popular books about Zen Buddhism of the time shed light on Neo-dada's radical investigations of the relations between art and everyday life in capitalist society.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: October 1, 2006

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