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A Dictionary of the American Avant-Gardes

A Dictionary of the American Avant-Gardes, by author and artist Richard Kostelanetz.

On amazon USA and UK.
Publisher Routledge writes: For this American edition of his legendary arts dictionary of information and opinion, the distinguished critic and arts historian Richard Kostelanetz has selected from the fuller third edition his entries on North Americans, including Canadians, Mexicans, and resident immigrants.

Typically, he provides intelligence unavailable anywhere else, no less in print than online, about a wealth of subjects and individuals. Focused upon what is truly innovative and excellent, Kostelanetz also ranges widely with insight and surprise, including appreciations of artistic athletes such as Muhammad Ali and the Harlem Globetrotters, and such collective creations as Las Vegas and his native New York City. Continuing the traditions of cheeky high-style Dictionarysts, honoring Ambrose Bierce and Nicolas Slonimsky (both with individual entries), Kostelanetz offers a “reference book” to be treasured not only in bits and chunks, but continuously as one of the ten books someone would take if they planned to be stranded on a desert isle.


Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Touch Sanitation Performance, 1979-1980

William Klein, Muhammad Ali, the Greatest, 1974

Chris Burden, Trans-fixed, 1974 (via)

I never thought i’d ever read a dictionary from A to Z but this one is witty, original and wonderfully opinionated. Plus it’s the abridged version and far easier to digest than a wikipedia entry.

The first edition of this unconventional dictionary was published in 1993 and there’s a good reason why it is still being printed today. Kostelanetz follows his own criteria when it comes to identifying practices and ideas that break rules and pass the test of time. Which means that he often takes you places that you were not expecting.


Carolee Schneemann, Up to and Including Her Limits (documentation of performance), 1976

Tony Schwartz, Sounds of my City (via)

José Guadalupe Posada, Calavera Oaxaqueña

Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, 1915. International News Photography Photography © Bettman/Corbis, via

First of all, the timeframe covered by the book is impressive: one moment you read about DJ Spooky. Pages later, you encounter Eadweard Muybridge.

I was also (pleasantly) surprised by the wide array of people he gathers around his understanding of what constitutes the avant-gardes.
There’s Isadora Duncan, Eduardo Kac, Ornette Coleman, Tex Avery and people developing technologies for art at Bell Labs. There’s Erich von Stroheim, Vito Acconci, Rube Goldberg and the Guerrilla Girls. He also sees innovation in the work of art forger Mark Hofmann, the choreography of Muhammad Ali and in Michel Joyce’s pioneering use of hypertext in his literary work. Richard Kostelanetz even contributed an entry about himself.

The author pays homage to artists but also to the works, laws, patrons, agencies and innovations that inspired the avant-gardes and/or created the conditions for its development. The Brooklyn Bridge, the unemployment insurance (1935), the Freedom of Information Act, National Endowment for the Arts (1965) and individuals like Alanna Heiss or Louise and Walter Arensberg. What struck me when i read the dictionary is how many among the actors of the avant-gardes were immigrants. People born abroad who moved to the USA and shaped its art scene.

Rona Goffen and the Venetian Renaissance

The late Rona Goffen passed away on September 8, 2004 at the age of 60. By that time she had become one of the leading scholars in the field of the Venetian Renaissance. She was one of the few art historians who saw the importance of understanding the religious and cultural background of Venetian artists and their patrons.

Goffen wrote many books and articles on the Italian Renaissance but, in my opinion, Piety and Patronage in Renaissance Venice remains as the single best introduction to the art of the Venetian Renaissance. Subtitled “Bellini, Titian and the Franciscans,” she discussed the theological and devotional background of the magnificent paintings by Bellini and Titian in the Frari, the Franciscan center in Venice. *

As a prelude to viewing the paintings she discussed the writings of prominent clerics like St. Bernardino of Siena, a patron saint of Venice, and Lorenzo Giustiniani, the saintly first Patriarch of Venice, especially when it came to depictions of the Madonna. She pointed out the importance, but also the difficulty, of seeing things through their eyes.

This Is Not an Atlas. A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies

This Is Not an Atlas. A Global Collection of Counter-Cartographies, edited by kollektiv orangotango+. Published by transcript Verlag.

More indigenous territory has been claimed by maps than by guns. This assertion has its corollary: more indigenous territory can be defended and reclaimed by maps than by guns.
Bernard Nietschmann, geographer

In 2015, the group of critical geographers kollektiv orangotango launched a call for critical maps in English, German and Spanish. They received nearly 150 submissions from all over the world and selected about a third of them for This Is Not an Atlas.

The book is a collection of maps but it is not an atlas. Unlike traditional cartography, it doesn’t pretend to be a paragon of objectivity. It recognizes, right from the start, that maps are always political.

The contributions are counter-cartographies. They visualize social injustices, environmental destruction and territorial struggles. However, because counter-cartographies are anchored in a tradition of post-colonial practices of mapping back, they don’t stop at making unbalances of power visible, they go further: they act as springboards for critical thinking, emancipation, coordination and resistance.


Iconoclasistas, ¿A quién pertenece la tierra? / Who Owns the Land?

Mark Graham, Stefano De Sabbata, Ralph Straumann, Sanna Ojanperä (Geonet)

Mapping in the Amazon. Indigenous Kaxinawa from Rui Humaitá producing sketches during mapping workshop

Brett Bloom, Deep Map

Inside This Is Not An Atlas, you’ll discover an online mapping platform that helps migrants organise their journey across the Mediterranean sea and communicate any violations of their rights; a documentation of the rampant human rights violations by the State police in Rio de Janeiro’s Favelas; maps that help participants of protests find their way in unfamiliar cities; an anti-eviction project that documents real estate speculation in and beyond the San Francisco Bay Area; a series of maps that help strengthen social movements of traditional peoples and communities living in the Amazon; a crowdsourcing project that provide citizens in an Indian megacity with a much-needed map of public toilets; an HarassMap that anonymously crowdsource incidents of sexual harassment all over Egypt; an interactive street map of the squatting movement in Berlin; a free community-based project that does justice to the vibrant neighbourhood of Kibera in Nairobi, etc. And of course many cases of ecological conflicts across the world documented on the Environmental Justice Atlas platform.

The works selected demonstrate that counter-cartography has a role to play locally and internationally. In the Global South and in the Global North.

The two projects i found most compelling illustrate that you don’t need sophisticated technologies to visualize a territory:


Participants watch from below as the red balloon sails above a spot in the camp. Image Greening Bourj al-Shamali, via

The Bourj Al Shamali camp In Lebanon houses some 22,000 Palestinian refugees. An urban agriculture pilot project revealed that no map of the camp was available to its inhabitants. The only maps that exist are kept secret by international organisations for security reason.

The solution was self-mapping using a digital camera and a helium-filled balloon to make aerial photography of the settlement. The approach was very low tech but it had the advantage of being less threatening than using drones


Counter-Cartographies of Exile. Map by H.S., Nasruddin Farouk Gladeema, Alishum Ahmedin, Marie Moreau, Kanké Tounkara, Issa Ibrahm Ahmid, Ahmedin A., S.A. Photo by Mabeye Deme

From Afghanistan to France sketches a trail of exile of a refugee leaving his country to reach France. It was created by an asylum seeker who drew the map from “below”, from a walking point of view that subverts the conventional maps of migrations and nation states.


Critical Geography Collective, Violencia de Estado en torno a los proyectos megamineros de la Amazonía Sur del Ecuador (State violence around the Mega Mining projects in South Amazonia of Ecuador

Critical Geography Collective, GPS Workshop in the moorlands of Salcedo, April 2013

Cian Dayrit (in collaboration with Henry Caceres), Et Hoc Quod Nos Nescimus [And the world as we know it], 2018

Recht auf Stadt (Right to the City)

All these maps are not only informative, they are also meant to be sources of inspiration. That’s why the second part of the publication provides insights, methodologies and resources to help individuals and communities organise sessions of collective mapping and to engage into territorial creative activism. If that were not generous enough, the website of This Is Not an Atlas also provides readers with all the maps and even the ebook for you to download and share for free. It is published under the Creative Commons license.

Inside the book:

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