• Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life

    Date posted: November 22, 2011 Author: jolanta

    Fluxus, which means “to flow” in Latin, was a radical international network of artists, composers and writers known for their pranks and for blurring the distinction between art and everyday life. The founder of this “loose organism” was an American, George Maciunas (1931-1978). This exhibition of more than 75 works was culled from the Maciunas Memorial Collection of Fluxus art from the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, N.H., enriched with loans from MoMA, Harvard University and the Walker Art Center, and was curated by Jacquelynn Baas.

    “Duchamp’s spirit of sarcasm and overall influence are clearly present in many of the works on display here.”

     

    George Maciunas, Gift Box for John Cage: Spell Your Name with These Objects, 1972. George Maciunas Memorial Collection. Gift of John Cage.

    Courtesy of the Hood Museum of Art, Dartmouth College and Billie Maciunas.

     

    Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life
    Valery Oisteanu


    Fluxus, which means “to flow” in Latin, was a radical international network of artists, composers and writers known for their pranks and for blurring the distinction between art and everyday life. The founder of this “loose organism” was an American, George Maciunas (1931-1978). This exhibition of more than 75 works was culled from the Maciunas Memorial Collection of Fluxus art from the Hood Museum of Art in Hanover, N.H., enriched with loans from MoMA, Harvard University and the Walker Art Center, and was curated by Jacquelynn Baas.

    The 1960s–’70s phenomenon that was Fluxus resists characterization as an art movement, collective or group, and it further defies traditional geographical, chronological and medium-based approaches. For the purposes of this show, the works are designed around universal themes in a form of questions such as:  Art (What is it good for)?, Change?, Danger?, Death?, Freedom?, Happiness?, Sex?, Staying Alive?, Time?, and What Am I?, all of which encourage experiential encounters for each visitor.

    Let us explore that fundamental first question, Art — e.g., Fluxus art — what is it good for? While the dadas and surrealists would have quickly answered with a big Nothing!, in fact the question has an important implication for the role of art today. Via Fluxus, Maciunas reintroduced a discussion about the validity of art in terms of bipolar concepts—logical/illogical and pretext/subtext. If something is logical/illogical, he concluded, it must be art! Further, art is something we do on purpose in order to generate mind-changing experiences in ourselves and others.
“Art,” says French-born Fluxus artist Robert Filliou, “is what makes life more interesting than art.”

    There is much of interest to see in this show. On the topic of “Happiness?” Bici Forbes presents A Stress Formula Publication (1970-78), which comprises a vitamin-pill bottle whose label is inscribed with the suggested dosage, “Take one capsule every four hours, for laughs. Inside the bottle are clear capsules containing little scrolls of paper upon which are printed humorous sayings. The overall message here is that we need jokes more than we do drugs, and indeed, Fluxus artists seem to agree that happiness is something we make for ourselves, not the result of something that happens to us.

    My favorite works are in the form of ”Flux-kits” such as Games and Puzzles (1965), a plastic box with dice, cubes and Scrabble letters, by George Brecht (1926-2008) and Gift Box for John Cage: Spell Your Name With These Objects by George Maciunas (1972), a leather-covered, red velvet-lined box containing 15 small objects another interesting Flux-kit, Flux Divorce Box (1971), by Geoffrey Hendricks and former wife Nye Ffarrabas, appears in the “Love?” section and consists of a wooden box with compartments housing a family album sawed in half horizontally, a section of barbed wire, fragment of coats and various letters and invites also sliced into halves.

    In the “Death?” department, Ben Vautier offers A Flux Suicide Kit—a clear plastic box filled with matches, razor, fish hook, white rope, electrical plug, shard of broken glass, straight pin, etc., all placed in their own compartments. “Staying Alive?” features Daniel Spoerri’s Meal Variation No.2 — Eaten by Marcel Duchamp, a screen print representing the leftovers of a meal on a table cluttered with dishes, an ashtrays, spoons, etc.

    Indeed, Duchamp’s spirit of sarcasm and overall influence are clearly present in many of the works on display here. A faux magazine called V TRE EXTRA by Geoffrey Hendricks announces the death of Maciunas as a “heart attack kills him at the summer palace,” illustrated by a montage picturing him in papal regalia and described as “one of his many disguises used to elude the attorney general.”

    The second lower level of the Gray Art Gallery shows a companion exhibit, ”Fluxus at NYU: Before and Beyond,” a small selection of works from Fales Library and the NYU Art collection curated by Julia Robinson with Ellen Swieskowski (CAS’11).

    Although this second show has many merits, historically speaking, and big names such as Jackson Pollock, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Larry Miller, Emmett Williams, Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg, it lacks avant-garde Fluxus works from such luminaries as Ray Johnson, A.M.Fine and Guillermo Achille Cavellini.  The catalogue of the main show will be of great help to students, scholars and the general public. The book, co-published by Dartmouth College and the University of Chicago Press, was edited by guest-curator Jacquelynn Baas and includes her own cogent introduction and essay and other appraisals by Fluxus artist Ken Friedman and scholars Hannah Higgins and Jacob Proctor.

    It seems that Fluxus is everywhere today. There are more than a dozen related shows in New York City alone this season, from MoMA (“Fluxus Editions, 1962-1978″) to art fairs, from SoHo (“Artist Space: Christopher D’Archangelo, 1975-1979″) to Stony Brook University Art Gallery (“John & Yoko Imagine Peace”). The “Questions” exhibit itself will travel to the University of Michigan Museum of Art in Ann Arbor, February 25–May 20, 2012.

    Fluxus today is to be encouraged and supported. Ultimately, its function is to show us how to be creative ourselves, help us practice innovation and understand contemporary art and life.

    Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life is on view at Grey Art Gallery, NYU through Dec 3, 2011.

    *** This article was published by NY Arts Magazine, 2011. NY Arts Magazine is published by Abraham Lubelski. Sponsored by Broadway Gallery, NYC and World Art Media.

     


     

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