Engendering an avant-garde

The unsettled landscapes of Vancouver photo-conceptualism

Author: Leah Modigliani

Engendering an avant-garde: the unsettled landscapes of Vancouver photo-conceptualism is the first book to comprehensively examine the origins of Vancouver photo-conceptualism in its regional context between 1968 and 1990. Employing discourse analysis of texts written by and about artists, feminist critique, and settler colonial theory, the book discusses the historical transition from artists’ creation of ‘defeatured landscapes’ between 1968-1971 to their cinematographic photographs of the late 1970s, and the backlash against such work by other artists in the late 1980s. This book analyses Jeff Wall and Ian Wallace’s strategic framing of their photography as avant-garde, and considers their rejection of the history of regional landscape painting (such as Emily Carr’s work), the rejection of the counter-cultural experiments of their peers, and the integration of feminist challenges to figurative representation into their work. It is the first study to provide a structural accounting for why the group remains all-male. It accomplishes this by demonstrating that the importation of a European discourse of avant-garde activity, which assumed masculine social privilege and public activity, effectively excluded women artists from membership. In doing so, it intervenes in formalist art critics’ validation of the technical innovation of the Vancouver School as a universal phenomenon of global importance by revealing the social exclusions that empowered it in the past and continue to invest it with authority. This book will appeal to scholars and students interested in Canadian art history, photography, the history of the avant-garde, and the role visual culture plays in establishing and maintaining control over discursive and physical territories.

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‘This scrutiny of the shibboleths supporting “Vancouver photo-conceptualism”, more commonly reiterated than scrutinised, is telling. Modigliani opens up the possibility of new thinking rather than closing it down. For this reason, and because of her confident command of materials and sources, the book will reach the international audience avid for writing about the Vancouver School, its protagonists, photo-conceptualism, conceptual art of the late '60s, feminist deconstruction, regionalism v. internationalism and more.'
Charlotte Townsend-Gault, Professor Emeritus, Department of Art History, Visual Art & Theory, The University of British Columbia

‘Engendering an Avant-Garde insightfully expands upon earlier critical photo-historical anthologies […] and offers compelling evidence of the need to broaden the scope of the critical treatment of Vancouver art history.
Prefix Photo Magazine
January 2020

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