“In the Spirit of Fuxus” at Whitney Museum of American Art

“In the Spirit of Fuxus” at Whitney Museum of American Art

June 1993

The Whitney Museum of American Art will present “In the Spirit of Fluxus” from July 16 through October 3, 1993. The exhibition provides an in-depth view of what has been called one of the most influential art movements of the 1960s through approximately 400 objects and documentary material of work by more than 40 artists. Organized by Walker Art Center curator Elizabeth Armstrong and curatorial associate Joan Rothfuss, the traveling exhibition highlights the activities of the loosely knit group whose approach to art and life proved critical to the development of performance art, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, and video art.

“In the Spirit of Fluxus” examines the development of the movement beginning with an introduction to the artistic context in which it was conceived, providing a thorough examination of its peak years of activity from 1962 through 1978, and concluding with a selection of recent works by artists associated with Fluxus. Elizabeth Armstrong
stated, “The questions raised by Fluxus artists-especially those having to do with long-held cultural assumptions about artistic quality, value and meaning-reflect a major shift taking place in society’s understanding of the function and practice of art. Thirty years later, these same concerns are being explored by a new generation of artists, historians, critics, and museum curators.”

The exhibition includes works by Eric Andersen, Ay-O, Joseph Beuys, George Brecht, Robert Filliou, Ken Friedman, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Joe Jones, Milan Knlzak, Alison Knowles, Arthur Koepcke, Shigeko Kubota, Larry Miller, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson, Takako Saito, Paul Sharits, Mieko (Chieko) Shiomi, Daniel Spoerri, Ben Vautier, Wolf Vostell, Yoshi Wada, Robert Watts, Emmett Williams, and La Monte Young, among others.

Fluxus emerged in the early 1960s as a response to the celebration of individual artistic genius that characterized the 1950s art world. The movement challenged aesthetic tradition by investing chance occurrences and the ephemera of daily life with artistic value and meaning. The Latin word fluxus, meaning a ‘continuous moving on or passing by, as of a flowing stream” indicates the importance placed by the Fluxus artists on the concepts of fluidity and indeterminacy. Avoiding conventional artistic forms such as painting and sculpture, Fluxus artists found new means of expression in film and video, music, performance, publishing, and the appropriation and re-presentation of mass-produced objects.

With close ties to popular culture, film and video held enormous appeal for Fluxus artists. Fluxfilms attempted to focus on the commonplace and to pare down the filmmaking process to its most fundamental elements, light, film, motion, and sometimes image. Featured in the exhibition are Yoko Ono’s No.4, Peter Moore’s Disappearing Music for Face, and Paul Sharits’ Word Movie presented simultaneously on three walls, an environment proposed by George Maciunas as Film Wallpaper. Video sculpture, a form pioneered by Fluxus artists Shigeko Kubota, Nam June Paik, and Wolf Vostell, is also included in the exhibition.

“In the Spirit of Fluxus’ features a recreation of the gallery window occupied for 15 days by Ben Vautier for his Living Sculpture, originally constructed in London for the 1962 Festival of Misfits. Like Dada before it, performance was crucial to the dissemination of the Fluxus sensibility, serving as a means to circumvent the traditional context of the art experience. Numerous festivals were staged across Europe and the United States in which the Fluxus goal of “living art’ or ‘anti-art’ was promoted. The performances capitalized on chance occurrences and emphasized the body as a site for artistic activity. Two Fluxus festivals, Festival of Misfits and Fluxus Festival Wiesbaden, are preserved on videotapes that will be shown. Other performances are documented by artists’ event scores, photographs, and relics of the works.

Music, and ideas about music, especially those that concerned the relationship of art to nature, society, mass-media, and the everyday, played a significant part in the conception and evolution of Fluxus. Artists Dick Higgins, Benjamin Patterson, and Robert Watts, among others expanded John Cage’s radical re-definition of music to include not only sounds that are inaudible but ones that are merely conceivable. An interactive listening station installed at the Museum will allow visitors to hear a selection of Fluxus music. Also featured is Yoshi Wada’s What’s the Matter with Your Ear? a viewer-activated, computer-controlled installation programmed to play the artist’s predetermined sound sequences. Electrical charges are sent to a variety of “instruments” including a washing machine, car horns, and fire bells.

George Maciunas, self-appointed “chairman” of Fluxus, published editions of artists’ works under the Fluxus copyright. Constituting the core visual element of the exhibition, these editions were based on prototypes and ideas contributed by the artists. They took various forms, ranging from newspapers and posters to games and small boxes filled with an assortment of objects, effectively extending the Duchampian concept of the ready-made. Fluxus editions encourage an intimate relationship with their audience because of their small scale and interactive quality. Witty and irreverent, Venus de Milo Apron, produced by George Maciunas in 1970, is brought to completion not by the artist but by the person who wears it. Willem de Ridder’s European Mail Order Warehouse/Fluxshop contains a panoply of such material, in which interaction between the viewer and the object is a necessary aspect of the experience.

Fluxus was initially conceived as a publishing venture and text remained an important element in the work of many Fluxus artists. In conjunction with “In the Spirit of Fluxus,” an installation of artists’ publications will be presented in the Lower Gallery. Organized by May Castleberry, Librarian and Associate Curator for Special Collections, “Artists’ Publications, 1952-1966” includes editions of the Fluxus periodical V TRE, published and produced by George Brecht from 1964 through 1976, and An Anthology. 1963, a collaborative project that brought together visual, verbal, and musical notations by George Brecht, Walter de Maria, and Robert Morris, among others.

Following its presentation at the Whitney Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago (November 13, 1993-January 16, 1994), Wexner Center for Visual Arts, Columbus, Ohio (February 18-Apri117, 1994), San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (May 12-July 24, 1994), Santa Barbara Museum of Art (August 20- October 16, 1994), Fundacio Antoni Tapies, Barcelona (November 24, 1994-January 29, 1995)

‘In the Spirit of Fluxus’ was organized by the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis. It is made possible in part by a grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional support is provided by Northwest Airlines, Inc. and the National Endowment for the Arts. The Walker’s ongoing program of Extended Artist Residences and related public programs is made possible by generous grants from the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Fund, The Rockefeller Foundation, and the National Endowment for the Arts.

In the Spirit of Fluxus with essays by Simon Anderson, Elizabeth Armstrong, Andreas Huyssen, Bruce Jenkins, Douglas Kahn, Owen F. Smith, and Kristine Stiles. Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; made possible in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. 192 pages, 150 illustrations. Paper $35.