Associated with Marcel Duchamp and the Dada movement, Anti-art has its origins around the year 1914. Artists like Duchamp rejected current definitions of art and created works that were outside of the traditional arts or popular art. While unconventional, Anti-art expanded people’s notions of what could be deemed art. While some artists associated with the movement abandoned traditional art forms altogether, others employed some traditional forms (i.e. painting, sculpture, etc…).
Art historians view Anti-art as more of an umbrella of various movements aimed at breaking with traditional forms and views of art. The Dada movement is regarded as the first of these movements. Dada theorists sought to create art that was opposite to the conventional definitions of art and this ideal is also part of the Anti-art aesthetic. However, Anti-art could also reflect the absence of art. An empty frame, for example, could be described as a work of Anti-art.
Anti-artists generally were opposed to high art as well as the art market itself. They strove to break with traditions as well as known art institutions. Aside from Dada, other well-known movements under the umbrella of Anti-art include Constructivism, Surrealism, Letterism, and Neo-Dadaism. Duchamp’s Ready-Mades are among early examples of Anti-art. His work Fountain (1917) features an upside down urinal. The work was controversial because it essentially premised that anything could be deemed art–even the presentation of a found object like a urinal.
Like Dadaists, many artists aligned with Anti-art movements rejected conformity of any kind. Many even rejected the artist’s association with a work of art and worked anonymously or collectively with other artists. After World War I, such movements rose to greater prominence as the ‘old world’ seemed lost after the horrors of war. Artists began to blur the boundaries of art increasingly more.
Many Anti-art movements were also associated with political movements of their era. For instance, many Dadaists, particularly Berliners, were aligned with radical Communism. Constructionists were associated with the early years after the Russian Revolution. Many Surrealists also identified with Communism.
In many ways, both art and politics merged to simply mean anti-establishment for artists who wanted to break with old forms of art and governance. Often deemed as radical, today Anti-art is generally embraced by the art community and even collected by museums. Anti-art movements existed well into the 1960s and 1970s. Moreover, many artists and the course of Modern Art itself have been integrally influenced by Anti-art theories, artists, and art works.