Summary of Fluxus
Fluxus was a loosely organized group of artists that spanned the globe, but had an especially strong presence in New York City. George Maciunas is historically considered the primary founder and organizer of the movement, who described Fluxus as, "a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage and Duchamp." Like the Futurists and Dadaists before them, Fluxus artists did not agree with the authority of museums to determine the value of art, nor did they believe that one must be educated to view and understand a piece of art. Fluxus not only wanted art to be available to the masses, they also wanted everyone to produce art all the time. It is often difficult to define Fluxus, as many Fluxus artists claim that the act of defining the movement is, in fact, too limiting and reductive.
Key Ideas & Accomplishments
- Unlike previous artistic movements, Fluxus sought to change the history of the world, not just the history of art. The persistent goal of most Fluxus artists was to destroy any boundary between art and life. George Maciunas especially wanted to, "purge the world of bourgeoisie sickness...." He stated that Fluxus was "anti-art," in order to underscore the revolutionary mode of thinking about the practice and process of art.
- A central Fluxus tenet was to dismiss and mock the elitist world of "high art" and to find any way possible to bring art to the masses, much in keeping with the social climate of the 1960s. Fluxus artists used humor to express their intent and, along with Dada, Fluxus was one of the few art movements to use humor throughout history. Despite their playful attitude, Fluxus artists were serious about their desire to change the balance of power in the art world. Their irreverence for "high art" had an impact on the perceived authority of the museum to determine what, and who, constituted "art."
- Fluxus art involved the viewer, relying on the element of chance to shape the ultimate outcome of the piece. The use of chance was also employed by Dada, Marcel Duchamp, and other performance art of the time, such as Happenings. Fluxus artists were most heavily influenced by the ideas of John Cage, who believed that one should embark on a piece without having a conception of the eventual end. It was the process of creating that was important, not the finished product.
Overview of Fluxus
Saying, “Art is sort of an experimental station in which one tries out living,” John Cage created innovative pieces like his 4’33” - where a musician sat silently present for four minutes, 33 seconds, while the audience heard only the room’s random ambient noise. Emphasizing performance, created by chance, he became a founding inspiration for Fluxus.
Important Art and Artists of Fluxus
Cut Piece puts the artist at the mercy of the audience: Ono invited the audience to cut away her clothing as she sat completely still and expressionless on stage. The interaction between artist and viewer is unequivocally intimate, as the viewer completely invades the personal space of the artist, literally cutting away the boundary between the self and the other. Control is literally in the hands of the audience member who holds the scissors, and the outcome of the piece changed each time it was performed. This particular piece likely influenced Marina Abramovic's Rhythm O, though Abramovic took this concept even further, presenting the audience with items to use on her body as they wished, including a knife and a loaded gun, which one audience member pointed at her head.
Optimistic Box #3 - So much the better if you can't play chess (you won't imitate Marcel Duchamp) (1969)
Optimistic Box #3 is an actual fold-up chess set similar to Dada readymades but in this instance the viewer is invited to interact with the artwork. In order to see the entire text, one has to open the box to continue reading. The interior verse is a tip of the hat to Marcel Duchamp, the artist who conceived the readymades. While this piece is an object and not a performance, it still incorporates the Fluxus ideals; nonsensical humor and a lack of boundary between the art and the viewer. The significance of this piece is in its insistence that the viewer interact with it, unlike traditional art objects in a museum context in which touching is forbidden.
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 piece literally proclaims the Fluxus belief in anti-art and is one of many "editions" manufactured. Often Fluxus artists would produce a large number of identical pieces to deliberately devalue the object. It can be assumed that many of these boxes were burned as per the instructions on the cover, the involvement of the viewer completing the piece.
Useful Resources on Fluxus
- Fluxus ExperienceOur PickBy Hannah Higgins
- Fluxus: the History of an AttitudeBy Owen F. Smith
- Fluxus Selections from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman CollectionsBy Clive Phillpot
- A Flexible History of Fluxus Facts and FictionsBy Emmett Williams
- Fluxus CodexOur PickBy Jon Hendricks
- Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia, and Rutgers University 1958-1972By Geoffrey Hendricks