From Fluxus to Media Art
March 6 – May 24, 2008
Opening Reception: Thursday, March 6, 6-8pm
Stendhal Gallery is pleased to present From Fluxus to Media Art, a special selection of artists working in a range of media including film, video, sculpture, conceptual performance, and digital technologies. On view will be work by Jonas Mekas, George Maciunas, Fluxus, George Brecht, Andy Warhol, Nam June Paik, Shigeko Kubota, and Studio IMC.
The exhibition offers a wider view of the history of media art, exploring many of its defining attributes in the pioneering practices of artists during the 1960’s. This time observed a radical shift when artists, strongly influenced by the anti-art practices and objects of Marcel Duchamp and Dada and theories of Surrealism, challenged established modes of value and interpretation. Critical artworks and films in combination with rare and original archival material shed new light on the interrelated, avant-garde activities of various artists whose sensibilities to new technologies of their time and multi-media foundations expanded the scope of artistic practice for later artists. Highlights include the international Fluxus art movement of the 1960’s comprised of artists who, through shared interdisciplinary interests, collectively explored the creative possibilities that occur between genres including art, performance, literature, non-narrative film, and music. Also featured will be Fluxus contemporaries Jonas Mekas and Andy Warhol whose unconventional approaches to filmmaking helped established film as an art form.
As early as the 1950’s, leading avant-garde filmmaker Jonas Mekas was experimenting with new technologies, developing his signature diaristic approach and in-camera style of editing. Nearly 60 years later, he continues to be at the helm of digital innovation with his website www.jonasmekas.com. The website witnessed Mekas’ relentless commitment to the art of film through his ambitious 365 film project. Drawing from old and recent footage, he released one film each day throughout 2007. For the exhibition, Mekas personally selected films from this collection capturing the creative impulses and interdisciplinary interests of key Fluxus members with appearances by its charismatic Chairman and Impresario George Maciunas, Shigeko Kubota, Nam June Paik, Ben Vautier, as well as Andy Warhol.
On view for the first time is Mekas’ new 9-monitor video installation Fluxus & Warhol (2008), part of an engaging series of works that reshape his film diaries for a different social space facilitating interaction among viewers. Measuring 40 inches, these monitors represent the latest innovation in Westinghouse digital technologies. Revealed in text presented intermittently between frames is Mekas’ “assessment of the similarities between Maciunas and Warhol… based on his personal empathy for both artists as well as his understanding of their work.”
The exhibition also marks the release of a new collection of 40 film stills entitled Warhol Series #1 by Jonas Mekas. Spanning a remarkable 609 x 80 cm. in its entirety, the collection presents a penetrating look into the life and career of artist Andy Warhol. Produced in edition of 10, these still images capture Warhol during the early days of his Factory with Baby Jane Holzer, vacationing at his estate in Montauk, Long Island with friends Lee Radziwill, and the 1971 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art when he covered the walls with his novelty cow wallpaper.
Founded in 1955 by Mekas and his brother Adolfas, the New York based magazine FILM CULTURE was widely considered the foremost resource on independent and avant-garde cinema during its 41 years of publication. It penetrated deep into the currents of the experimental underground cinema community through landmark articles on film theory and technique, interviews, symposiums, and manifestos. On view will be hand-written notes, drawings, original photographs, and letters describing the conception of FILM CULTURE no. 45 published in 1967, an essential source to understanding the shifting impulses happening in art during this time. Maciunas, at one time the magazine’s design director, executed the graphics and images find subject in Warhol’s photographs of Factory members including Edie Sedgwick, Nico, Baby Jane Holzer, The Velvet Underground, and others. Film historian and critic Amy Taubin writes “It is an amazingly “filmic” volume, in which Maciunas and Warhol’s shared penchants – for series, repetition, and for images produced through the layering of various reproductive technologies – completely dovetail.”
Also on view will be a special version of Fluxus founder George Maciunas’ Fluxfilm Anthology, personally compiled by the artist for Jonas Mekas’ birthday in 1968. This rarely exhibited edition has complimentary footage not included in the Anthology Film Archives version. Maciunas’ ambitious collection summarizes Fluxus’ playful, yet critical engagement with film. Through a humorous and minimalist approach, key Fluxus members Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, George Brecht, and others created what has been aptly termed as “anti-films.” These works called into question the medium’s inherent attributes by subverting all notions of traditional film narrative, leaving meaning open-ended, and letting chance influence outcome.
Also showing will be Warhol’s landmark experimental film Empire (1964). Produced with the help of Jonas Mekas who also worked the camera, the film presents New York City’s Empire State Building filmed for 8 hours and 5 minutes on the night of July 25-26. Lacking any traditional narrative, Empire is an observation of the passage of time sensed as the iconic structure materializes forth when day turns to night, and in the flashes of light that signal each new roll of film. Warhol stated that the film’s point is to “see time go by.” Shot at a speed of twenty-four frames per second, footage is projected at a slower speed of sixteen frames per second lengthening its running time.
As a music student, George Brecht studied under avant-garde composer John Cage whose radical theories on composition, along with the “readymades” of Marcel Duchamp would play a pivotal role in his artistic development during the 1950’s and 60’s. On view will be Brecht’s minimal “event scores,” words and short instructional phrases printed in black ink type on small white card stocks, designed by George Maciunas and central to Fluxus performances. Open and generative, these seemingly simple works embodied Fluxus’ “death of the author” notion giving way to a range of possibilities that could take place during their enactment, susceptible to the individual viewer’s own subjective interpretation.
Nam June Paik’s experiments in performance, composition, and film during Fluxus served as background for his groundbreaking work in television and video. Film and media art curator John Hanhardt writes, “Paik’s investigations into video and television and his key role in transforming the electronic moving image into an artist’s medium are part of the history of the media arts.” He prophetically coined the term “Electronic Superhighway” in the 1970’s. On view will be Majestic (reset1996), a video sculpture originally created in 1975. Incorporating two historically important objects of media and technology, Paik placed a small television set inside an antique radio as if to playfully negotiate with the viewer’s audio and visual senses.
Artist Shigeko Kubota, employing a diaristic approach to video, was one of the first to utilize an electronic medium as a means of artistic expression in the late 1960’s. Joining traditional sculpture with the moving image, she conveys the personal, spiritual, and creative aspects that motivate her in life and in art. On view is Nam June Paik II (2007), a towering metal sculpture of her late husband and artistic collaborator. Footage portraying the couple over the years plays on monitors throughout Paik’s body, singularly representing a creative partnership that helped legitimized video as an art form.
Fluxus artists compelled their activities into the fabrics of society, encouraging participation from their viewers. Guided by this same principal, Studio IMC artists James Tunick, Tony Rizzaro, and Eric Alini created IMCtv, an interactive platform for information sharing and free speech where the users’ views and actions generate meaning and content. Dynamic images and text generated from text messages and votes cast to free speech bulletins by viewers, web images, and live news feeds construct a real-time portrait of our digital culture.
Leading visionaries of avant-garde cinema receive an honorary place in the exhibition. Rotating on a single screen will be Luis Buñuel’s surrealist work Un Chien Andalou (1929) written in collaboration with Salvador Dalí, Marcel Duchamp’s characteristically Dada film Anemic Cinema (1926), Hans Richter’s experimental breakthrough Rhythmus 21 (1921), and Fernand Léger’s modern masterpiece Ballet Mécanique (1924).
Special thanks to the Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center, Vilnius for loan of George Maciunas’ Fluxus archives and materials related to Film Culture no. 45, the Andy Warhol Museum for loan of Empire, and Amy Taubin, Ken Friedman, and Julia Robinson for their significant contributions in research and scholarship.