Everyone has been asking Howard Fox the same question lately.
While curating the County Museum of Art's "Avant-Garde in the Eighties" "People kept saying to me, 'but is there an avant-garde in the '80s?' " Fox says.
The answer is "definitely," he assures.
More than 125 works by 112 American and European artists make up the multimedia exhibition, running Thursday through July 12.
"I think we're living in a very vitalized and critically intelligent moment in our history," Fox explains. "The pace and intelligence of the activity is rivaled only by what went on at the turn of the century with all the 'isms' happening all at once. It's the product of a culture in transition. Just by definition you have an avant-garde. Something is changing. People are investigating new values, or investigating new responses to old values."
The key philosophical and conceptual issues that defined the "original, classical" avant-garde, Fox says, are shared by its contemporary counterpart. "But the contemporary response to those issues is very different."
To reflect those responses, "Avant-Garde of the Eighties" will focus on three issues: originality, community, shared values and culture and the limits of art.
The first issue deals with "the question of creating art anew, as a human activity all over again, and the importance of the individual object," Fox says.
The second category addresses "the relation of the artist to his audience, and by extension to society in general, and to culture and in fact to all of Western Civilization.
"And the third theme has to do with the notion of extending the boundaries of art," Fox says. "It's my presumption that the way the modern (classical) avant-garde learned to extend the boundaries of art was to burrow within. The slightest stylistic innovation was defined as an extension of boundary. That's really false, because modern art was essentially reductive.
"But I think the idea of a formal innovation doesn't do much for contemporary artists. They are more interested in extending the subject matter, the legitimate purposes of art and its relationship to other human experiences."
FIVE WEEKS TO GO: Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions is accepting proposals for its second "Annuale" exhibition. Slated for September and October, the show is open to professional Los Angeles County artists working in all media including painting, drawing, sculpture, printmaking, photography, installation and video.
Proposals, due by May 22, must include eight to 10 slides or a videotape of work to be displayed, a resume, and a self-addressed, stamped envelope. LACE membership, $20 a year, is required for participation. Information: (213) 624-5650.
Guest curator Dana Friis-Hansen, assistant curator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's List Visual Arts Center, will review proposals, visit artists' studios and make selections for the show.
The "Annuale," an expanded effort to showcase locally produced contemporary art, is an outgrowth of LACE's annual downtown artists' exhibit, begun in 1977.
NEEDED BY THE NEA: Washington has snatched up two more Californians. Warren Bennett Newman from Pasadena and Peter H. Pennekamp from Humboldt County have recently been appointed to the National Endowment for the Arts.
Newman, superintendent of the South Pasadena Unified School District, will become director of the NEA's Arts in Education Program on May 1. Succeeding Joe N. Prince, he will apply 25 years of experience in education administration to work with state arts agencies--such as the California Arts Council--educators associations, private arts organizations and state education departments.
"I'd like to see a better articulated and coordinated effort on the part of all the various groups involved," Newman said recently. "Not just on the federal level, but involving the collaboration of federal agencies, state agencies and the private organizations.
"I also think we are looking at a combination of more rigor in arts education--more accountability. I think teachers need to be better trained. So we'll be working with higher education."
Pennekamp took over as director of the NEA's Inter-Arts Program earlier this month. He formerly directed the CenterArts at Humboldt State University, which annually presents 55 touring ensembles and 60 productions by local performers. Pennekamp will oversee the NEA's program for multidisciplinary art projects and institutions.
ANOTHER NEW JOB: Konrad Oberhuber, curator of drawings at the Fogg Art Museum and Harvard fine arts professor, has been appointed director of the Albertina Museum in Vienna. The appointment becomes effective Sept. 1.
In a prepared statement, Oberhuber said he hopes that his presence at the Albertina "will lead to a more intense collaboration between Austria and the United States," and an opportunity for an exchange of scholarly exhibitions, staff and ideas between the Fogg and the Albertina.