The BackShop Journal

A Web Magazine of Arts, Culture and Orthodox Christian Spirituality

Fluxus and George Maciunas

It has been exactly 20 years since the creation of the Fluxus Cabinet in Vilnius, Lithuania, the country of origin of the godfather of the Fluxus art movement, George Maciunas. The Cabinet was donated in 1997 to the Contemporary Art Centre in the Lithuanian capital. It was a gift from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection, the world's largest collection of Fluxus works. The collection was curated by the influential historian of Fluxus movement, Jon Hendricks. The Cabinet consists of nearly 100 objects created by the most important Fluxus artists such as George Maciunas, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Shigeko Kubota, Ben Vautier, Mieko Shiomi, Henry Flynt, La Monte Young, Yoko Ono, and Ay-O. The Cabinet exhibits the scores and visual documentation of Fluxus "events", photos from seminal Fluxus festivals in Wuppertal, Nice and New York, Fluxus newspapers and other editions. It reveals the interdisciplinary nature of this influential artistic movement and its practices, which changed notions about visual arts in the 1960s.

Jurgis Mačiūnas (1931-1978) coined the name Fluxus for art produced by a range of artists with a shared sensibility as an attempt to "fuse cultural, social and political revolutionaries into a united front and action". Born in Kaunas, he fled Lithuania with his family at the end of World War II and settled in New York. Maciunas studied art, graphic design, and architecture at Cooper Union , architecture and musicology at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh, and art history at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts specializing in the European and Siberian art of migrations. His studies lasted eleven years from 1949 to 1960, and led to a life-long fascination with the history of art. As a student, he began his first art-history chart, measuring 6 by 12 foot, a "time/space chart categorizing all past styles, movements, schools, artists etc." Although this project remained unfinished, he would publish three versions of avant-garde history.

While in New York, he met a group of artists and musicians centered around John Cage and La Monte Young: Higgins, Ono, Jonas Mekas , Ray Johnson , Flynt and Young. After coming back from a stint in Wiesbaden, Germany, Maciunas began to work as a graphic artist at the New York studio of graphic designer Jack Marshad. He established the official Fluxus Headquarters at 359 Canal Street in New York City and proceeded to make Fluxus into a sort of multinational corporation replete with a complex amalgam of Fluxus Products from the FluxShop and the Flux Mail-Order Catalogue and Warehouse, Fluxus copyright protection, a collective newspaper, a Flux Housing Cooperative and frequently revised lists of incorporated Fluxus "workers". The shop, like all his business ventures, was notoriously unsuccessful. In an interview with Larry Miller in 1978 shortly before his death, Maciunas estimated spending about $50,000 on fluxus projects over the years that would never recoup their investment.

According to his contemporaries, Maciunas was charismatic, sometimes pushy, captivating, seductive, and often overbearing. Adrian Searle, art critic for the Guardian , described him thus: "Maciunas was fascinating, talented, and by all accounts a nightmare. Like André Breton , godfather of the surrealist movement, Maciunas would invite artists, composers and even philosophers to take part in activities. He would charm them, boss them around for years, then perform summary excommunications, banishing those who displeased him." He died of pancreatic cancer at the age of 46.

Fluxus encouraged a "do-it-yourself " aesthetic, and valued simplicity over complexity. Like Dada before it, Fluxus included a strong current of anti-commercialism and an anti-art sensibility, disparaging the conventional market-driven art world in favor of an artist-centered creative practice. The Fluxus artistic philosophy has been defined as a synthesis of four key factors that define the majority of Fluxus work: 1. Fluxus is an attitude. It is not a movement or a style. 2. Fluxus is intermedia. Fluxus creators like to see what happens when different media intersect. They use found and everyday objects, sounds, images, and texts to create new combinations of objects, sounds, images, and texts. 3. Fluxus works are simple. The art is small, the texts are short, and the performances are brief. 4. Fluxus is fun. Humor has always been an important element in Fluxus.

More than fifty years after its inception, Fluxus does not seem contemporary anymore, but its originality and strong influence upon subsequent art practices mainly due to its dedicated, charismatic leader, George Maciunas, is more than evident. The Fluxus Cabinet offers an insightful retrospective of the beginnings of genuine conceptual art.

Svetozar Postic

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