What is Fluxus?
Fluxus was a loosely associated international group of artists, musicians and writers arising in the 1960s, principally in New York, Germany and Japan. While the group’s self-appointed leader, George Maciunas, wrote a manifesto and coordinated many of its activities, Fluxus was less a formal movement than a diverse community of like-minded artists and creative people around the world. Influenced by Zen Buddhism and taking Dada pioneer Marcel Duchamp and avant-garde composer John Cage as its patron saints, Fluxus prized process over product and embraced humour, chance and the everyday in its iconoclastic rebellion against the conventions of the commercial art market. Often political in tone, the Fluxus ethos centred on dissolving the boundary between art and life; it’s stated goals, in the words of Maciunas, were to “promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art… Fuse the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action.” Accordingly, the style is most closely associated with performances and organised events occurring outside of traditional venues, with the audience and outside world acting as integral and unpredictable elements of the work.
Characteristics & Style of Fluxus
Because of its process-driven, spontaneous and often ephemeral nature, the Fluxus style is notoriously difficult to pin down. Maciunas evocatively described it as “a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage and Duchamp”. United more by conceptual than aesthetic tendencies, the artists of Fluxus gravitated toward the DIY, anti-commercial and egalitarian and embraced chance, accident and absurdity. The movement is perhaps most famous for its “events” – performance pieces based largely on simple sets of written instructions called “scores”. However, artists worked across a wide range of materials and processes, including video art, mail art and intermedia collaborations. Like Dada before it, Fluxus emphasised anti-art and a rejection of the seriousness and elitism of the commercial art world, and vastly expanded the definitions of what can constitute art.
Legacy of Fluxus
By challenging traditional distinctions between art and life, Fluxus radically broadened definitions of what art can be. Chopping food, answering the telephone, even breathing – mundane activities and interactions, presented humorously and succinctly – upended conventional ideas of artistic value. By staging most of its activities outside of mainstream venues, Fluxus paved the way for numerous artistic styles that operate outside of galleries and museums, from land art to street art.
Its boundary-pushing ethos continues to resonate through contemporary incarnations of conceptual and performance art – Tracy Emin, Marina Abramovic, Damien Hirst, Rikrit Tiravanija, Banksy and many others have drawn from and expanded upon the Fluxus philosophy.
Timeline & History of Fluxus
1959Al Hansen, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low and others who studied with John Cage at The New School form the New York Audio Visual Group, thus launching proto-Fluxus activities.
(pictured) British-born composer and Fluxus artist Dick Higgins in a classroom at the New School, New York, 5 August, 1959. At the time, Higgins was a student of composer John Cage, who had been on the faculty since 1956. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
1960From 1960–61, Yoko Ono and La Monte Young stage a series of concerts at Ono’s Chambers Street loft, drawing the attention of art world figures from Peggy Guggenheim to Max Ernst and Marcel Duchamp. George Maciunas attends and develops a friendship with Ono.
(pictured) Japanese-born American artist and musician Yoko Ono (centre rear) and musicians wrapped in ribbon during a performance at a Fluxus event, New York, 22 September 1965. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images
1961The first Fluxus event, Bread & AG, consisting of readings by poet Frank Kuenstler, is organised by Maciunas at AG Gallery in New York.
(pictured) Announcement card for the literary evenings at AG Gallery, New York, 1961. Designed by George Maciunas
1962Maciunas coins the term Fluxus, meaning “flowing” in Latin, to describe the movement. He travels with Higgins and Alison Knowles to Germany, where they collaborate with artists including Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell to organise a series of “Fluxfests” across Western Europe.
(pictured) Poster for FLuXuS Internationale FesTsPiELe NEUEsTER MUSiK, Wiesbaden, 1–23 September 1962
1963Maciunas publishes the Fluxus manifesto, officially launching the movement. He establishes the Fluxus headquarters in New York.
(pictured) The Fluxus manifesto, written in 1963 by George Maciunas
1964Higgins, Knowles and Nam June Paik are expelled from the group for their support of German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen, whom Maciunas deems a “cultural imperialist”.
(pictured) Karlheinz Stockhausen. Photo: Rob C. Croes / Anefo / Nationaal Archief
1964Maciunas and others, including Ono, Christo and George Brecht, begin producing collections of multiples – so-called “Fluxkits” – composed of small, inexpensive objects and texts.
(pictured) Flux Year Box 2, assembled by George Maciunas, circa 1966
1966Maciunas embarks on his urban planning initiative, developing artist lofts in Soho known as Fluxhouse Cooperatives.
(pictured) Exterior view of building converted by the Fluxhouse Cooperatives. Courtesy: Fluxus Foundation
1978Maciunas dies; a “Fluxfuneral” is held, followed by a “Fluxfeast and Wake”, the last major Fluxus event.
(pictured) Geoffrey Hendricks, a V TRE EXTRA (Fluxus Newspaper #11), 1979. © Walker Special Purchase Fund, 1989
Who are the Fluxus Artists?
The movement’s key figure was the Lithuanian-American artist George Maciunas. A mercurial leader with forceful opinions, Maciunas acted as the group’s central coordinator even as he alienated many of its members. Because of his insistence on the artists’ “dispensability”, Maciunas did not sign his works and many Fluxus pieces are not credited to any artist. Accordingly, confusion continues to surround many key works in the Fluxus oeuvre.
Numerous other avant-garde artists of the 1960s and 1970s are associated with Fluxus to varying degrees. Japanese-American performance artist and activist Yoko Ono emphasised the viewer’s responsibility toward an artistic subject with her provocative 1964 Cut Piece, in which audience members were invited to cut away pieces of her clothing as she sat, motionless; Conceptual pioneer George Brecht was famous for his event scores, including Drip Music, 1962; Nam June Paik, widely regarded as the father of video art, was known for his frequent collaborations with cellist Charlotte Moorman, such as 1964’s TV Cello; and the German conceptual and performance artist Joseph Beuys created richly symbolic actions deconstructing the relationship between thought, speech and form, as in How to Explain Pictures to a Dead Hare, 1965.
Others associated with Fluxus include the artists Allan Kaprow, Christo, Wolf Vostell, Al Hansen, Alice Hutchins, Ben Vautier and Alison Knowles, as well as composers, musicians and writers such as Dick Higgins, La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low.
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