Mapping Maciunas

“Mapping Maciunas” at Stendhal Gallery

Stendhal Gallery is pleased to announce the exhibition, “George Maciunas” featuring the Fluxus maestros’ lifelong interest in the production of charts and diagrams to historicize, clarify and advance the experimental art of his time.

Throughout his life, Maciunas prided himself in the creation of “learning machines,” taking the form of elaborate charts documenting key eras of history and art. Maciunas himself was a learning machine, having studied art, graphic design and architecture at Cooper Union (1949-1952), architecture and musicology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburg (1952-1954) and art history at the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University (1955-1960).

As a student, Maciunas had developed charts, such as his, “Chronology of Russian History: Oct. 3, 1914-1934” (1953-1954), to further his perspective of the subject. In 1958, he turned his attention to an “Atlas of Prehistoric Chinese Art.” Attending N. Y. U., Maciunas even drew up several, “History of Art Charts.” As a student of history, art, and art charts, Maciunas described his diagrams as a “recategorization of all fields of knowledge according to a more logical system.”

These charts had educational and creative purposes. “It is very easy to locate all present art forms within the categories,” Maciunas stated,” and find categories for which no art examples exist yet.” The charts also had a promotional purpose in demonstrating that Fluxus was heir to a number of 20th century avant-garde movements continuing a subversive artistic subculture.

As a proselytizer of the contemporary avant-garde, birthing difficult performative works and unpretentious objects incomprehensible to the public as artistic statements, Maciunas was forced to position these new activities into a context the public could find precedents and comfort.

The documentation of Fluxus personalities and events lead to the creation of Maciunas’ “Diagram of Historical Development of FluxusŠ” (1973), arguably a masterwork, which posits Fluxus in a continuum of radical art history brought center stage by Dada, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage.

Setting his sights on more practical matters, Maciunas undertook a 1968-1969 grant supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York to improve arts education in the United States. His research for “Proposals for Art Education,” resulted in a series of charts and diagrams including “Contemporary Man” and a “Curriculum Plan” for both art majors and non-major programs.

Maciunas’ diagram for “Contemporary Man” pits “Literate Man” (Plato, Darwin, Harpo Marx) against “Post-Literate Man” (Cezanne, Joyce, Groucho Marx). His view of humanity is expressed as a struggle between the hedgehog (obstinate, determined) and the fox (curious, quick, skeptical). This is one of Maciunas’ most far reaching charts, ranging beyond art and cultural history to express universal approaches to thought and practice.

In his detailed chart for “Curriculum Plan,” Maciunas cites areas of arts education training in “Object Art,” “Environmental Art,” “Graphic Art (& Design),” and “Aural Art.” The chart, collaged by Maciunas, is itself a work of art, composed of similar graphic elements found in Fluxus publications.

Maciunas makes clear his devotion to charts, diagrams and atlases, devoting a separate section to them in his resume. The rejection of a 1976 grant to the Guggenheim Foundation to work on a “Diagram of History of the Avant-Garde, Particularly its Development from Futurism, Dada, Duchamp, Surrealism, John Cage to Happenings, Events and Fluxus,” affirmed his commitment to a lifetime pursuit of learning until shortly before his death.

Utopian planner and urban pioneer, leader of a cultural avant-garde, scholar, graphic designer, architect, Maciunas by necessity prioritized and categorized the various components of his life. These obsessions and passions are made manifest in the charts and diagrams on display at Stendhal Gallery.

By John Held Jr.