Saturday, November 15, 2008

Fluxus, George Maciunas (1931-1978)

What is Fluxus? What is Art?

Is Peter Related to George Maciunas?

This is a joke.
Jacqueline Abreo
October 2008

Fluxus, George Maciunas

“They said, ‘Hey! -Coffee cups can be more beautiful than fancy sculptures. A kiss in the morning can be more dramatic than a drama by Mr. Fancypants. The sloshing of my foot in my wet boot sounds more beautiful than fancy organ music.’ And when they saw that, it turned their minds on. And they began to ask questions. One question was, ‘Why does everything I see that’s beautiful like cups and kisses and sloshing feet have to be made into just a part of something fancier and bigger? Why can’t I just use it for its own sake?’”

  1. George Maciunas started a magazine called Fluxus in 1961, but the idea of Fluxus became much more. Fluxus was about anti-art, anti-establishment, exploiting things that don’t make sense, making fun of life, jokes, gags, vaudeville. It is not art; not an artist; not a movement. It just is. It has no aim, no function, no purpose. Rather it is an essentialism, nonidentified, random, an attitude towards art.

Fluxus questioned the categories of music, art, and theatre. How can one define the space between the fields? These questions were important in deterring the institutions from limiting the work that was created. Dick Higgins coined the term “intermedia” which blurred the distinction between art and life. Art should not be special or commercial. It’s not just one thing, but instead it is cross disciplinary.

Their work involved conceptual art. A lot of the work is meant to shock. The use of time is always extreme. It is either a very quick simple shock or an exaggerated long period of time. Fluxus derives from the Latin word meaning, “to flow.” Fluxus is always changing and therefore cannot be defined. Fluxus is an event; it is life; it is not a rehearsed theatre. They were heavily influenced by Marcel Duchamp (displayed a urinal in an art gallery) and Dadaism. The work could be defined as concretism, a ‘reaction against abstract formalism.’

Comparing art and art amusement:

Art: professional, elite, exclusive, appears to be complex, intellectual, pretentious, and skillfull, is used to raise value and appear to be rare.

Art-amusement: non-professional, anything can be art and anyone can do it, simple, concerned with insignificances.

2. It is a community, an international network of artists, composers, and designers who blended different media and disciplines. If you asked someone in fluxus: How do you define yourself and your work? They would list a series of professions; painter, poet, performer, all of the above working simultaneously. Some examples of the scope of people and ideas:

Yoko Ono: Music using the sound of a flushing the toilet. She also introduced the idea that others could complete someone else’s work of art, such as her painting ‘to be stepped on’. At the time, this idea of the role of the artist was radically different.

Alison Knowles: Simple directions using found objects involving sound. These works were participatory and performative.

John Cage: Experimental music, explored ideas of chance in art

Ben Vautier: “Art is only a question of signature and date.” “Please look at me.”

Ben Patterson: Paper Piece, the experience of the audience, the kinetic process of making the piece, paper is an instrument anyone can play.

Collectors, such as antique shops, give value to something that should have been thrown away, but it wasn’t and now it is valuable.

3. Manifesto, 1963. Expanded Arts Diagram (detail) by George Maciunas, 1966.

Fluxus (its historical development and relationship to avant-garde movements)

4. George Maciunas was obsessed with documenting, charting history and the development of art. He developed an idea of “Boxes” which was similar to a cabinet with drawers filled with mementos of the time. One example, hair, makes reference to religion and the relics of saints. George wanted to also mock the idea of holy water.

The Boxes derived from an early project, The Case, by George Brecht in 1959, which was a plastic storage box, like a traveling case. Then in 1978 Maciunas developed them into wooden boxes filled with things you would take on a journey back to childhood, such as toys, balls, furry things, etc… Some boxes were simply a collection of hair and dust neatly packaged. Fluxkits were a collection of works, like an encyclopedia. Flux Yearboxes were like portable Fluxus museums. The boxes were hand assembled and meant to be mass produced, and eventually you produce them yourself. Although highly idiosyncratic, ready made ideas were explored. Another idea Maciunas had was to bottle dirty water as perfume He wanted to exploit useless objects and alter objects to make them unuseful. For example, a fan that is as slow as a clock and a clock that is as fast as a fan. The clock doesn’t give time and the fan doesn’t blow wind. More examples include: a box with no void, chairs as events, hear a play but can’t get in, sell 20 tickets to the same seat, foot theatre is performed behind a sheet. Maciunas was obsessed with naming, labeling, collecting, charting and documenting. Everything had a name: Fluxus boxes, Flux-kits, History chart, Fluxus Headquarters.

  1. Photograph of Shigeko Kubota performing her Vagina Painting,
    July 4th, 1965 at Cinemateque, E 4th Street, New York City during Perpetual Fluxus Festival. Photograph by George Maciunas. This proto-feminist work involved the artist painting with a brush that she had fastened to her underpants, moving over the paper she dipped the brush in red paint referencing female sexual attributes and bodily functions. This work redefined action painting using the female anatomy. This reference to the menstrual cycle and procreation of women was a rejection of the female as a muse. She demonstrated woman as the source of her own artistic inspiration. There didn’t have to be a psychological gap between art and life.
  2. Works by Yoko Ono:



Let people copy or photograph you paintings.

Destroy the originals.

1964 spring


Light canvas or any finished painting with a cigarette at any time for any length of time.

See the smoke movement.

The painting ends when the whole canvas or painting is gone.

1961 summer


Leave a piece of canvas or finished painting on the floor or in the street.

1960 winter


Drill two holes into a canvas.

Hang it where you can see the sky.

(Change the place of hanging.

Try both the front and rear windows,

to see if the skies are different.)

1961 summer


Methodology of Ideas:

Relationship between Artists- collectivism favored over individualism

Relationship between Art and Artist- using your body to create art

Relationship between Art and Audience- you become part of the art by participating in it.


Mr. Fluxus : a collective portrait of George Maciunas, 1931- 1978 : based upon personal reminiscences / gathered by Emmett Williams und [i.e. and] Ay-O, and edited by Emmett Williams and Ann Noël. Added title Collective portrait of George Maciunas, 1931-1978 Imprint New York, N.Y. : Thames and Hudson, 1998.

Kellein, Thomas. Title The dream of Fluxus : George Maciunas : an artist's biography / Thomas Kellein ; [translation into English: Fiona Elliott]. Added title George Maciunas, an artist's biography Imprint London ; Bangkok : Edition Hansjörg Mayer : Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by Thames & Hudson, 2007.

Williams, Emmett. Title A flexible history of Fluxus facts and fictions / Emmett Williams. Imprint London : Edition Hansjörg Mayer, 2006.

In the Spirit of Fluxus : published on the occasion of the exhibition ... / organized by Elizabeth Armstrong and Joan Rothfuss ; essays by Simon Anderson ... [et al.]. Edition 1st ed. Imprint Minneapolis : Walker Art Center, c1993.

Kellein, Thomas. Title Fluxus / Thomas Kellein. Imprint London ; New York, N.Y. : Thames and Hudson, 1995.

Higgins, Hannah, 1964- Title Fluxus experience / Hannah Higgins. Imprint Berkeley : University of California Press, c2002.

The Fluxus reader / edited by Ken Friedman. Imprint Chicester, West Sussex ; New York : Academy Editions, 1999, 1998.

Dreyfus, Charles. Title Happenings & fluxus : [exposition] Galerie 1900-2000 du 7 juin au 29 juillet 1989, Galerie du Genie du 8 juin au 18 juillet 1989, Galerie de Poche du 7 juin au 29 juillet 1989 / Charles Dreyfus. Added title Happenings et fluxus Imprint Paris : Galerie 1900-2000 : Galerie du Genie : Galerie de Poche, [1989?]

Hendricks, Jon. Title Fluxus codex / [compiled by] Jon Hendricks ; with an introduction by Robert Pincus-Witten. Imprint Detroit, Mich. : Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection in association with H.N. Abrams, New York, 1988.

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