Exhibition in the Spirit of Fluxus Captures with and Exuberance of International Art Collective

Exhibition in the Spirit of Fluxus Captures with and Exuberance of International Art Collective

Fluxus has been called “‘the most radical and experimental art movement of the sixties.” The label art movement, however, may be antithetical to its spirit: loosely knit international collective of visual artists, writers, composers, filmmakers, and performers took an imaginative view of the practices of art and its exhibition. Ironic, outrageous, refractory-sometimes scatological, Fluxus does not fit into any neat conceptual box (unless it is a Fluxbox-one of a wide array of Fluxus outputs). To understand Fluxus is to experience it; to peruse the photographic documentation of its heterodox performances called Fluxfests, to witness the reassembly of the revolutionary distribution mechanisms known as Fluxshops, to ponder the agglomeration of media in Fluxboxes and Fluxkits, to touch its interactive installations and sculptures and to see the ongoing work that echoes Fluxphilosophy.

From May 12 to July 17, 1994, In the spirit of Fluxus will be on view at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA). Organized by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, this exhibition comprises approximately 1,000 objects and documentary materials representing over forty artists whose works date from 1962 to the present. Some of the artists represented include Eric Anderson, Ay-o, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, Robert Filliou, Ken Friedman, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Joe Jones, Milan Knizalc. Alison Knowles, Arthur Koepcke, Shigeko Kubota, George Maciunas, Larry Miller, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson, Takoko Saito, Carolee Schneeman, Paul Sharits, Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi, Daniel Spoerri, Ben Vautier, Yoshimasa Wada, Robert Watts, Emmett Williams and La Monte Young, among many others.

In keeping with the freewheeling character of Fluxus, its members held diverse opinions about its tenets; nonetheless, the Fluxus manifesto written by its “‘founder” and self-appointed leader George Maciunas provides a broad view of its intentions. Between three printed dictionary definitions of the word flux, Maciunas interpolated in his own hand a Fluxus creed: 1. To “purge the world of bourgeois sickness ‘intellectual,’ professional and commercialized culture”; 2. To “PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART … To be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals.” 3. To “fuse the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action.”

Maciunas’ ambitious quest began as an idea for a magazine in 1961 and evolved into a sponsoring organization for artistic developments worldwide, including “intermedia,” publications and performances. The international confluence of artists and events was a significant departure from the location-centric art movements that preceded Fluxus, such as the New York School or the School of Paris.

The first Fluxus Festivals were held in Europe in 1962. These performances elevated ordinary actions to the status of high art. Here is a sampling of the festival performances: A woman cutting a man’s hair (Dick Higgins: Danger Music 2, 1962); a man in a business suit pouring water on his head (Nam June Paik: Simple, 1962); a man nailing down the keys of a piano (George Maciunas: Piano Piece no. 13 for Nam June Paik, 1964); a conservatively dressed woman removing pair after pair of underwear (Nam June Paik: Serenade for Alison, 1962). Many of these performances had instructive “scores” that made them accessible to nonartists (perhaps all peoples, in Maciunas’ words) and fostered reintepretation by other performers. Mieko (Chielco) Shiomi’s Mirror, 1963. is an example.

    Stand on the sandy beach with your back to the sea.
    Hold a mirror in front of your face and look into it.
    Step back to the sea and enter into the water.

Evocative of stage directions, poetry, and musical composition, this seemingly simple “score” resonates with core values of Fluxus: the blurring of traditional distinctions between music, literature and the visual arts; the dismissal of virtuosity in art (in that it takes no special skill to perform it); and the rejection of standard venues in which to create and display art. Later Fluxus Festivals also included “Olympic” games, group banquets, weddings, a divorce, funerals and a mass.

With the same élan exuded by Fluxfests, Maciunas undertook a bold publishing campaign in 1961 under the Fluxus aegis. Dissatisfaction with the centralized control of the art world incited Maciunas and other artists to seize the power of distribution of their works and they began experimenting with their own retail and mail-order distribution channels such as the Fluxshops in New York, California, Amsterdam, and southern France and the Fluxus Mail-Order Warehouse. Critical of the “commodification” of unique art objects, their aim was to mass produce Fluxus artworks and make them available to people other than collectors and museums.

The breadth of Fluxus publications is staggering: They range from conventional projects such as periodicals and books to medicines, menus, radios, clothing. organs, hard ware, flags, signs, clocks, rocks, medals, cans, currency, stamps and boxed “multiples.” Humor was an extremely important component of Fluxus publications as demonstrated by Robert Watts’ tablecloths that gave the illusion of naked legs under the table. The Fluxboxes offer such handy items as clipped bunions (Ken Friedman: Flux Clippings, 1966/ circa 1969); incense, rubber, leather, rope, orange peel, cereal flakes (Yoshimasa Wada: Smoke Fluxkit, 1969); old light bulbs and a mirror (Robert Watts: Light Flux Kit, n.d., 1960s) among many other media.

Fluxus publishing was most prolific before 1970 when the emphasis of the group shifted to collective, interactive performance. In the period between 1970 and 1978, Fluxus may have been closest to its paragon: an exultation of accident and action, a state in which life and art were indistinguishable.

Organization and Funding
In the Spirit of Fluxus was organized by Elizabeth Armstrong and Joan Rothfuss of the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. The San Francisco presentation of the exhibition will be coordinated by Robert Riley, SFMOMA curator of media arts. The exhibition is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support has been provided by Northwest Airlines, Inc., the National Endowment for the Arts, a Federal Agency and the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, Detroit.

The illustrated catalogue that accompanies the exhibition presents a diverse collection of essays on Fluxus by Simon Anderson, Elizabeth Armstrong. Andreas Huyssen, Bruce Jenkins, Douglas Kahn, Owen F. Smith, and Kristine Stiles and is available at MuseumBooks.