Surveying the Avant-Garde

Questions on Modernism, Art, and the Americas in Transatlantic Magazines

Hardback or cased
Lori Cole
Published 04 Jun 2018
List Price £67.95



“Turning the manifesto—the touchstone genre for avant-gardists in the twentieth century—on its head, Lori Cole’s provocative, innovative, and deeply researched book reveals the questionnaire to have been a constitutive genre of declaration-by-interrogation across the arts of the Americas. With this counterintuitive and superbly convincing study, Cole opens new pathways for scholars in multiple languages to pursue the politics and populaces that made modern aesthetics.”

—Gayle Rogers, author of Incomparable Empires: Modernism and the Translation of Spanish and American Literature

“Lori Cole presents a new interpretation of modernism by examining the networks and circulation of ideas and images elaborated in transatlantic magazines. Using the questionnaire as a framework, her study destabilizes dominant narratives and reveals the numerous and often conflicting voices that contributed to and shaped notions of the avant-garde.”

—Michele Greet, author of Beyond National Identity: Pictorial Indigenism as a Modernist Strategy in Andean Art, 1920–1960

“By approaching modernism through the very questions its protagonists were asking themselves, Cole destabilizes the terms of this history, in turn opening up vital new questions—and offering insightful, original answers—about the global character of the avant-garde. This fascinating and meticulously researched book reveals the questionnaire as a quintessential site for experimental art and literature with vast implications for how we understand the self-reflexive processes through which cultural meaning is produced and received.”

—Gwen Allen, author of Artists' Magazines: An Alternative Space for Art

“An outstanding contribution to modernist studies in general, to discussions on global modernism in particular, and to periodical studies. The questionnaire in modernist magazines is brought forth as a genre of paramount importance for the self-perception of modernism, as it shaped public discussions about the relevance, scope, and limitations of the modernist project. Lori Cole skillfully brings together magazines across three continents and re-creates a fascinating snapshot of the connections, networks, and circulation of ideas that were vital for the writers and artists of the period.”

—Effie Rentzou, author of Littérature malgré elle: Le surréalisme et la transformation du littéraire

“You’ve filled out a million of them, but have you ever really considered the questionnaire? Lori Cole has—and in Surveying the Avant-Garde she seats it beside the manifesto as a core genre of modernist self-portraiture and self-promotion. The result is a fascinating new take on a range of modernist print communities. What Cole has rejoined—the manifesto and the questionnaire, the bullhorn of avant-gardes and their fissured mirror—let no one put asunder.”

—Paul K. Saint-Amour, author of The Copywrights: Intellectual Property and the Literary Imagination

Surveying the Avant-Garde examines the art and literature of the Americas in the early twentieth century through the lens of the questionnaire, a genre as central as the manifesto to the history of the avant-garde.

Questions such as “How do you imagine Latin America?” and “What should American art be?” issued by avant-garde magazines like Imán, a Latin American periodical based in Paris, and Cuba’s Revista de Avance demonstrate how editors, writers, and readers all grappled with the concept of “America,” particularly in relationship to Europe, and how the questionnaire became a structuring device for reflecting on their national and aesthetic identities in print. Through an analysis of these questionnaires and their responses, Lori Cole reveals how ideas like “American art,” as well as “modernism” and “avant-garde,” were debated at the very moment of their development and consolidation.

Unlike a manifesto, whose signatories align with a single polemical text, the questionnaire produces a patchwork of responses, providing a composite and sometimes fractured portrait of a community. Such responses yield a self-reflexive history of the era as told by its protagonists, which include figures such as Gertrude Stein, Alfred Stieglitz, Jean Toomer, F. T. Marinetti, Diego Rivera, and Jorge Luis Borges.

The book traces a genealogy of the genre from the Renaissance paragone, or “comparison of the arts,” through the rise of enquêtes in the late nineteenth century, up to the contemporary questionnaire, which proliferates in art magazines today. By analyzing a selection of surveys issued across the Atlantic, Cole indicates how they helped shape artists’ and writers’ understanding of themselves and their place in the world.

Derived from extensive archival research, this book reorients our understanding of modernism as both hemispheric and transatlantic by narrating how the artists and writers of the period engaged in aesthetic debates that informed and propelled print communities in Europe, the United States, and Latin America. Scholars of modernism and the avant-garde will welcome Cole’s original and compellingly crafted work.


List of Illustrations


Introduction: Questioning the Avant Garde

1. Defining the Questionnaire

2. Picturing Latin America

3. Translating the Americas

4. Forming National Canons

5. Extending into the Contemporary

Conclusion: Interrogating Print Culture


A Century of Questionnaires: A Chronological Index




Lori Cole is Visiting Assistant Professor at the Center for Experimental Humanities at New York University.

Examines art and literature of the Americas through the lens of the questionnaire, a genre as central as the manifesto to the history of the avant-garde. Demonstrates how modernism and the avant-garde were debated at the very moment of their development and consolidation.