Two exhibitions currently on view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery are garnering critical acclaim and accolades: Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life, curated by Jacquelynn Baas and organized by Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art; and the companion show Fluxus at NYU: Before and Beyond, curated by Julia Robinson — Assistant Professor in NYU’s Department of Art History and an authority on Fluxus — with Ellen Swieskowski (CAS, ’11). Both exhibitions opened on September 9th and will run through December 3rd, 2011. These exhibitions offer important opportunities for rethinking Fluxus’s artistic origins as well as its legacies.
Fluxus originated in the 1960s as a loose, international community or network of Conceptual artists, architects, composers, and designers. The name “Fluxus,” which derives from the Latin word “fluxus,” meaning “flow” or “change,” was first coined by the Lithuanian-born artist, art historian, and designer George Maciunas (1931-1978), who organized the first Fluxus events in 1962 and authored the Fluxus Manifesto (1963). Maciunas has important connections with New York University. His wide-ranging education included the study of art history at NYU’s Institute of Fine Arts, in addition to the study of graphic design at New York’s Cooper Union and architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh. The works in Fluxus at NYU: Before and Beyond are drawn exclusively from the rich holdings of NYU’s Fales Library and the New York University Art Collection.
Among the key themes and aims of Fluxus were “the dismantling of strictly defined borders between different media and between art and life,” as a recent review in Art Daily put it; a challenging of the notion of authorship with respect to works of art, and of the commodification of art objects in the world of “high art”; and a commitment to the notion of art as “part of the social process.” Important roots of Fluxus include the anti-art “movement” Dada, and the experimental music of the composer John Cage. It may also be said to have been spurred, even into the stance of counter-model, by the parallel activity of the “Environments” and “Happenings” of painter, assemblagist and pioneering intermedia artist Allan Kaprow. Figures that were part of or associated with Fluxus include the proto-conceptual artist and “events” composer George Brecht, the pioneer video artist Nam June Paik, the German performance artist, sculptor, and graphic artist Joseph Beuys, and the artist, musician, and activist Yoko Ono. Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life contains over 100 multimedia works by these and other important Fluxus artists, including extensive material from the Hood Museum of Art’s George Maciunas Memorial Collection.
As Grey Art Gallery Director Lynn Gumpert noted in Art Daily, “Fluxus . . . was, to a considerable extent, concocted by Downtown artists who would later become the denizens of SoHo Fluxhouses. A challenge in presenting Fluxus works today is to maintain the defiant and playful spirit in which they were made while, at the same time, safeguarding and preserving them for future audiences.”
Writing in The New York Times on September 23, 2011, Ken Johnson called Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life “a historically fascinating and excellently produced show.” He also emphasized the value of the “fascinating” works and textual material on display in Fluxus at NYU in showing “where [Fluxus] fits historically.” For a slideshow of works in Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life produced by the Times, click here.
Among the upcoming events associated with the Grey’s two Fluxus exhibitions is a panel discussion, Fluxus Redux, which will address the particular challenges inherent in exhibiting Fluxus works. The panel will be moderated by NYU Department of Art History professor Julia Robinson, co-curator of Fluxus at NYU, and will include panelists Christopher Cherix, Chief Curator of Prints and Illustrated Books at the Museum of Modern Art; Fluxus artist Alison Knowles; Carlo McCormick, Senior Editor of Paper magazine; and Glenn Wharton, Time-Based Media Conservator at the Museum of Modern Art and Research Scholar in Museum Studies at NYU. Fluxus Redux will take place on Tuesday, October 4th at 6:30 PM in the King Juan Carlos I of Spain Center, 53 Washington Square South, and is co-sponsored by NYU’s Program in Museum Studies, the Department of Art History, and the Grey Art Gallery. For further information, click on “Public Programs” on the Grey Art Gallery’s website at www.nyu.edu/greyart/.
Professor Robinson and her co-curator, Ellen Swieskowski, will present one of several Gallery Talks at the Grey on Wednesday, October 19th; other Gallery Talks/Performances will be led by Fluxus artist Larry Miller and Jacquelynn Baas, curator of Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life.
Support for Fluxus at NYU is provided by the Abby Weed Grey Trust; the Graduate School of Arts and Science; and the Grey’s Director’s Circle, Inter/National Council, and Friends.
Kathryn A. Smith