Avant-Garde Art Practices of the Early 20th Century

Write no more than 2500 words in total.

This assignment counts for 18% of your overall score.

In what ways and to what extent can the avant-garde art practices of the early twentieth century be seen to prefigure the global art of the contemporary era? Answer with close reference to visual examples selected from more than one chapter of the book.


This question is designed to test your knowledge and understanding of one of the key themes and issues in Book 4, Art after Empire: From Colonialism to Globalisation and to enable you to construct a reasoned argument supported by visual analysis and the examination of primary and secondary sources.

Guidance note

In order to answer this question, you will need to have a clear sense of what constitutes avant-garde art practices, on the one hand, and global contemporary art, on the other. Once you have established in what ways they can be said to be distinct from each other, you can think about the ways in which the avant-garde art practices of the early twentieth century might also be said to resemble and thus to prefigure contemporary global art.

You will find it helpful to pay close attention to the introduction and conclusion in Book 4 where the relevant arguments are discussed in detail. You should also situate these debates within the broader historical and geographical shifts outlined there. You are also required to back up any claims that you make with detailed reference to actual works and critical positions within the relevant literature.

In developing your approach to the question, you are asked to think through the implications of these arguments in relation to visual examples from more than one chapter of the book and make reference to both primary and secondary sources. Bearing in mind that the book is broadly divided into two (the first two chapters principally dealing with art in the first half of the twentieth century, and the last two with art produced after the Second World War), you are strongly advised to select works from both of these periods. You should also be aware, however, that the conclusions to chapters 1 and 2 bring the discussion up to the contemporary period and that both chapters 3 and 4 look backwards to reference earlier avant and neo-avant-garde works.

You will also need to work out how to structure your essay. You are advised to avoid writing a mini-essay about each of your chosen examples and should instead try to devise a structure that allows you to explore the broad themes and issues raised by this question. The formal analysis of works should be an important aspect of your argument; equally, however, you are expected to consider how the works in question were made, displayed and viewed, as well as how they have been discussed within art-historical discourse.


Your principal sources are Book 4 and the five ‘critical approaches’ texts in section 5 of the Reader. Remember that you will find activities in the online study week materials that will help you to come to grips with relevant issues. You will also find the audio-visual material online helpful, particularly the interview with Professor Oriana Baddeley in Week 25 which ranges across both halves of the book in relation to Mexican art past and present.

You are also advised to consult the various resources on developing study skills available to you online. For guidance on where to find these resources, see the Module Guide, 6.2. You may also find it helpful to refer back to the guidance on visual analysis in the Module Guide, 6.1.

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