Can we actually write about fluxus art as a separate movement? Are we able to name fluxus artists who were the most prominent figures of this art “movement”? Was Fluxus art at all? These are, of course, very broad questions, but unlike conceptual art, Fluxus was strictly defined if we compare it with other anti-establishment art movements. First of all, there wasn’t Fluxus art movement, and here we should respect the will of Fluxus art “founders” that it’s more about a network or community of people rather than a movement. Secondly, sometimes it’s difficult to name fluxus artists since there were many visual artists, composers, poets, writers connected to this “movement”, but they were part of this network for a short period of time. But, what’s the basic concept of the Fluxus art? To put it very shortly, it was a group or community of artists who aimed to dismantle the “high art” and its institutions, and to bring art to the masses. They were a group of anti-elitists who wanted to “liberate” art from elitist institutions (i.e. museums), and to bring the art to the people. Fluxus artists were diverse, they all had different backgrounds, but shared some basic ideas that actually reflected the “revolutionary spirit” of the 1960s, and that eventually led to what many call “radical art practices” In this article, we will present the most avant-garde figures in fluxus art, and by reading their statements and approaches, you will better understand what Fluxus actually was. Finally, the heritage of fluxus art is enormous – it influenced performance art, street and graffiti art, and land art.
Editors’ Tip: In the Spirit of Fluxus
This book focuses on a period of time in the late 1950s when a group of artists started looking around them in a new way. It is filled with pictures of performance stills and reproductions of print pieces. It is very valuable, as you cannot find quite good photographs of Fluxus happenings, performances, discussions. Fluxus art is certainly one of the most radical art practice in contemporary art. Their actions and statements were revolutionary and radical – they wanted to break the ties with Fine Art and to transform art into more participatory practice. Take a look at stunning works by Joseph Beuys, Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, Nam June Paik and many other members of Fluxus art.
George Maciunas was a Lithuanian-born American artist. He was a founding member and the central coordinator of Fluxus. Maciunas was actually the de-facto leader of the Fluxus art. He wanted to purge the world of bourgeoisie sickness and that is why Fluxus is often described as a “movement” that wanted to change the history of the world, not just the history of art! Maciunas stated that Fluxus is anti-art, meaning that it questioned the notion of art in general, its purposes and its goals. In 1963, Maciunas also composed the first Fluxus Manifesto, in which we can find his famous quote: ...purge the world of bourgeois sickness, ‘intellectual’, professional & commercialized culture ... PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART, ... promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals ... FUSE the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action.
Featured Image: George Maciunas
The roots of Fluxus art are to be found in the work of John Cage. Now many could argue that there is no place for a music theorist and composer in a list of the avant-garde artists. But, Cage was also a visual artist, while his ideas crucially influenced the emergence of Fluxus. The roots of Fluxus art should actually be looked for in experimental music – and Cage taught a series of classes in Experimental Composition from 1957 to 1959 at the New School for Social Research in New York City. He explored the notions of chance and indeterminacy in art, and based on his researches, it was realized compositions (similar art forms) can be performed in potentially infinite ways. Many of the Fluxus artists attended Cage’s courses, while his theory shaped the approach and art practice of Fluxus.
Featured Image: John Cage (courtesy of tcsonesentinel.com)
Joseph Beuys was a German Fluxus, happening and performance artist whose practice influenced a number of different radical art practices during 1960s and afterwards. His contribution to Fluxus art was enormous. He will remain probably best-known for the introduction of the idea of social sculpture that would eventually influence many participatory art practices. As a work of art, a social sculpture includes human activity and relationships that attempt to structure and shape society or the environment. The role of the artist is, therefore, to be a moderator of the discursive changes in society and politics. Indeed, in his work he demonstrated how participatory art practices can include a number of people who are not art-professionals, but they still participate in a creation of art. He was a good friend of Nam June Paik, another prominent member of the Fluxus movement.
Editors’ Tip: Joseph Beuys: The Reader (MIT Press)
Joseph Beuys remains an important influence on artists today. Beuys embraced radically democratic artistic and political ideas, proclaiming "Everyone is an artist," and advocating direct democracy through referenda. He famously worked with such nontraditional materials as felt, fat, and plants and animals both alive and dead. Beuys and his work -- performance art, drawing, painting, sculpture, installation -- received perhaps the most contentious reception of any postwar artist. This reader brings together the crucial writings on Beuys and his work, presenting key essays by prominent artists and critics from North America and Europe. Joseph Beuys: The Reader is the most significant gathering of critical texts on this challenging artist that has ever been assembled.
Featured Image: Joseph Beuys; Joseph Beuys - I Like America and America Likes Me
Ay-O is a Japanese artist who has been associated with Fluxus since its very beginnings. He is probably best-known for his “rainbow paintings”, for which he gained a nickname “rainbow man”. His serigraphs and etchings in strong rainbow colors have established his fame worldwide. Ay-O was introduced to George Maciunas by Yoko Ono in 1961 and formally joined Fluxus in 1963. Ay-O was known for his Finger Boxes and for his performance events when he was active in Fluxus.
Featured Images: Ay-O - Tactile Box and Finger Box; Ay-O
Yoko Ono is a Japanese multimedia artist, singer, songwriter, and peace activist best-known for her performance art. George Maciunas admired her art, however, she rejected his invitation to join Fluxus, because she wanted to remain independent. Still, she collaborated with Fluxus a lot. Yoko Ono is one of the pioneers of conceptual and performance art; and she included these practices into Fluxus community.
Editors’ Tip: Yoko Ono: Collector of Skies
The art of Yoko Ono is truly impressive. This lyrical biography explores the life and art of Yoko Ono, from her childhood haiku to her avant-garde visual art and experimental music. An outcast throughout most of her life, and misunderstood by every group she was supposed to belong to, Yoko always followed her own unique vision to create art that was ahead of its time and would later be celebrated. Her focus remained on being an artist, even when the rest of world saw her only as the wife of John Lennon. Yoko Ono’s moving story will inspire any young adult who is developing or questioning ideas about being an artist, to follow their dreams and find beauty in all that surrounds them.
Featured Images: Yoko Ono performing Cut Piece, 1964; Yoko Ono – Sky Piece to Jesus Christ, 1965
Nam June Paik was a Korean American artist who is considered to be the founder of video art. Even during his youth, he was interested in music. His passion for experimental music led him to Germany, at that time a center for avant-garde music. There he worked closely with Karlheinz Stockhausen, while he also met John Cage whose theories on music and performance influenced Nam June Paik to join Fluxus. In a 1960 piano performance in Cologne, he played Chopin, threw himself on the piano and rushed into the audience, where he attacked Cage and pianist David Tudor by cutting their clothes with scissors and dumping shampoo on their heads.
Featured Images: Nam June Paik and Fluxus (courtesy of popista.com); Nam June Paik performance (courtesy of popista.com)
Ben Vautier is a French artist, best known for his involvement in the Fluxus movement. He created one of the most famous Fluxus artworks - Total Art Matchbox from 1966. The piece is a box of matches with "directions" printed on the cover stating, USE THESE MATCHES TO DESTROY ALL ART - MUSEUMS ART LIBRARY'S - READY-MADES - POP-ART AND AS I BEN SIGNED EVERYTHING WORK OF ART - BURN - ANYTHING - KEEP LAST MATCH FOR THIS MATCH -. This is a perfect example of anti-art practice within the Fluxus “movement”.
Featured Images: Ben Vautier; Ben Vautier - Total Art Matchbox
Dick Higgins was an England-born artist who was also a composer, poet and printer. He was one of the first artists to join Fluxus. Higgins studied composition with John Cage at the New School of Social Research in New York in the late 1950s. In these years, he began producing music for events that rework everyday activities into performances. Higgins also took part in the Fluxus festival in 1962 in Wiesbaden, Germany, that marked the founding of Fluxus activity.
Featured Image: George Maciunas, Dick Higgins, Wolf Vostell, Benjamin Patterson & Emmett Williams
Alison Knowles is an American artist, who was one of the most active Fluxus artists. She was married to Dick Higgins, and music has played an important part in her art, particularly in her performances. In the early 1960s, she was involved in New York City artistic communities and happenings. During this time she began producing scores; events that rework everyday activities into performances that incorporate music.
Featured Image: Alison Knowles (courtesy of alchetron.com)
Wolf Vostell was a German artist, one of the pioneers of Happening and Fluxus, and prominent video and installation artist. In 1959, he created his electronic TV Dé-coll/age which marked the beginning of his dedication to the Fluxus Movement. Techniques such as blurring and Dé-collage are the most recognizable marks of his work, as is embedding objects in concrete and the use of television sets in his works.
Featured Image: Wolf Vostell; Wold Vostell, Fandango, 1975 (courtesy of artdesigntendance.com). All Images used for illustrative purposes only.