Unpacking Fluxus: The Joke’s On Us
Confetti from George Maciunas’s New Flux Year. c. 1967. The Museum of Modern Art. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008
Upon opening an orange faux-reptile-skin box marked only with the typed words “top” and “pull,” we received quite a surprise: out jumped a coiled toy snake and a shower of confetti printed with the words “New Flux Year.” Rattled, we soon found that the joke was on us, as we were left returning every last scrap of paper, along with the spring-loaded snake, back into the box before shutting it carefully.
George Maciunas. New Flux Year. c. 1967. Box containing toy snake and printed confetti. The Museum of Modern Art. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008
After assembling these playful items, George Maciunas, the self-proclaimed “chairman” of Fluxus, mailed copies of the box, perhaps meant to function as an invitation, to Fluxus artists and friends around the globe. Czech artist Milan Knizak received one in Prague, where he recalled savoring the shock customs officials received upon examining the box. John Lennon and Yoko Ono also received one, now in MoMA’s collection, and though it no longer contains confetti it does include a handwritten note on letterhead from Apple Records, the Beatles’ record label. Calling out the prank, Lennon and Ono wrote:
Handwritten note from John Lennon and Yoko Ono found in a copy of George Maciunas’ New Flux Year. The Museum of Modern Art. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, 2008. Image courtesy Yoko Ono
In 1965 Maciunas famously described the Fluxus activities as “the fusion of Spike Jones, Vaudeville, gag, children’s games, and Duchamp.” As my colleagues and I unpack and catalog the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift, evidence of this love of play is abundant. Decks of cards, dice, marbles, and balloons fill Fluxboxes, while prepared chess sets, ping-pong paddles, and stilts stand alone. It is an exciting privilege to handle these works, even though issues of fragility prohibit playing with them as was originally intended. As we assess the collection, we discover the contents of boxes, assemble puzzle poems to reveal images and texts, and count the number of cards in altered decks.
Having been tricked into participating with New Flux Year, we soon wondered: what is the art? Is it this small box (now sitting on a shelf in storage with a note of warning to future curious souls), or is it the action that this object incites? Sometimes, in the process of unpacking this collection, we can’t help but feel that we are part of a vast Fluxus performance of the everyday, full of gags and surprises.