Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

Avant Car Guard by Zander Blom, Jan-Henri Booyens and Michael MacGarry (Avant Car Guard, 2006) softcover, ISBN 978-0-620-37358-4

Zander Blom, Jan-Henri Booyens and Michael MacGarry are taking the piss. To be fair, they are doing it in the most erudite fashion. This artistic motley crew, the Avant Car Guard, represent South Africa’s conceptual art rule breakers. Their locally applicable title hints at the groups’ intention: of guarding the status of South African avant gardism in the face of potentially ‘destructive’ local artistic practice and criticism. Distinctly anti-authoritarian, their catalogue of activities is packaged in a cardboard sleeve, the whole reminiscient of vinyl album design. In keeping with the musical undertow, the ‘group’ have staged various tongue-in-cheek happenings to promote themselves, doing press junkets and signing their catalogue for suppossed eager fans. MacGarry’s catchphrase of “All Theory No Practice” and Blom’s conceptual focus seems to be the driving force in most of the creative decisions taken in the catalogue. The catalogue maintains an oppositional rhetoric which it ironically pairs with a decidedly pretentious and academic visual tone. The framing essay is blacked out, its accompanying image vandalised in disregard for the sycophantic posturing most essays of these type assume. The catalogue presents a series of in-jokes for the cultured few: the group dress up in Dada-inspired costumes; dance on Pierneef’s grave; even re-create the compositions/mood of significant avant-garde movements. There is a cynical reflection on the construction of the artist and his process, with many of the images centred around the artist’s studio, the genesis of creative production.In a photograph titled Avant Car Guard Outside 1884, the three sit by a storm water drain outlet, assuming the pose of the inspired Romantic artist. The atmosphere is decidedly unromantic. The boys seem to be nursing hangovers, around them plastic bottles and rubbish are littered and in the distance ominous pylons loom over an informal congregation of Zionist Christians. Other images are from 1987 and 2009, each date marking a significant point in cultural history. When I first received the catalogue I was unsure of exactly what Avant Car Guard was, or what they wanted to do. Research led to dead-ends and flippant websites. I was forced to make my own interpretations and to approach their work, if you can call it that, in a much more critically intuitive manner. In this sense, the catalogue is successful, although I sincerely doubt degrees of interpretive success are at the forefront of the Avant Car Guard project.

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