The Fluxus movement is most famous to the people for the outstanding presence of Yoko Ono, known for her art and for her relationship with John Lennon. But Fluxus is much more, and it was the inspiration for many artists that came after it.
Artistic and historical backgroud
Fluxus was an art movement born in 1959, when the New York Audio Visual Group was firstly founded. The fouders were artists who met at John Cage’s New School in New York: since they had nothing to do (as every student of Arts, after all! No? Maybe not), they decided to start funding experimental art and performances. This is called “Proto-Fluxus”, because the name was not mentioned yet (and you know how important definitions are in contemporary art…).
In the late ’50s the art world was perceived to be elitist and snobbish (it seems that nothing has changed from there…), and some artists wanted to go against this completely: this is how the Fluxus movement formed. Their main inspiration was the Dada movement, Marcel Duchamp, and John Cage. Although the movement was international, with artists from all over the world (we will see some of them further in this article), their main base was New York City.
The founder of the group was George Maciunas, Lithuanian-born American artist: he founded their magazine, called Fluxus, and he organized every performance, every concert and every event of the movement. He was a bit crazy and despotic, but he brought to life one of the most important movements of the 20th century!
- The main idea, which indeed gives the name to the movement, is the multidisciplinary approach of the participant artists. Denying the importance of art as it was previously declined, they wanted to create something unusual and interdisciplinary, mixing performance, cinema, video, music, poetry, literature, etc. “Fluxus” refers to the fluidity of the group’s art among the disciplines.
- Moreover, they wanted their art to become life and life to become art. In this way every single everyday action could potentially become art (any connections come to your mind? Artist’s shit is a good example, Marcel Duchamp‘s influence too).
From the Dadaists they took the humor, and some of their works show this very well (of course, you have to expect not a big laugh, but more a sarcastic smile, it’s artists’ humor after all!)
- They had great aspirations: they wanted to change history! They wanted to go against any art that already existed, making the concept of art more down-to-earth. Maciunas “stated that Fluxus was “anti-art,” in order to underscore the revolutionary mode of thinking about the practice and process of art” [source: theartstory.com].
Just as the Dadaists (at this point you are certainly wondering if they are coping them! But these movements have different features, believe me…) the Fluxus artists wanted the public to complete the artworks with their perception, their interpretation and many times their real actions. The process of creating the work of art becomes in this way more important that the finished product.
- The personality of the artist often didn’t have to be shown off: the pieces were signed as “Fluxus”, to take the ego of the artists away from the art (I already told you that Maciunas was a bit crazy…).
The artists that took part of the movement were many, especially because they were coming from all the different disciplines we were talking about before: there were film makers (like Georg Brecht), poets, musicians, performers, book authors… for the purpose of this article we will focus only on the visual artists, so you won’t get bored!
Yoko Ono wasn’t just the known partner of John Lennon, but one of the most important contemporary artists of all times. She participated to the Fluxus movement mainly with performances, and here we will present you one: the Cut Piece. We will talk about other works of her soon! You can see a video with a commentary just below, but let me describe it to you first: the artist was sitting in the middle of a theatre, fully dressed and with a pair of scissors next to her. The audience was invited to climb on the stage, take the scissors and cut a piece of her clothes. At the beginning, people had still a bit of decency in them and were cutting sleeves or little parts of the jacket; later on (especially men) they were cutting big pieces of her underwear, leaving her naked. (There is a similar, but more extreme, performance by Marina Abramovic, and we talked about it here).
Nam June Paik
He was coming from South Korea, but he always worked in the western world. In 1964, he was expelled from Fluxus by Maciunas (told you…) because after a trip in Europe Nam June Paik had collaborated with some avant-guarde artists who were not part of the group. Maciunas then sent him a postcard, the one you can see here!
He was really talented and he is now considered one of the pioneers of the Video Art. One of the works he made for the Fluxus movement is called Zen for Film and it is an eight-minutes-long film with just a white screen. It doesn’t show anything but white. Just like John Cage did with his 4’33” of silence, Nam June Paik did with the film. It is really deep though, as it invites to a profound meditation (as the title suggests).
Ben (how he signed his works most of the times) is immediately recognizable for his particular handwriting (here there is an example).
Although he was born in Italy, he was a French artist, and he lived all his life in Nice. In 1962 he joined the Fluxus group, being very enthusiast about the ideals and the actions of its members. His works became the most emblematic of Fluxus since then.
Other artists and contributors
Of course, among the contributors, we have to mention again George Maciunas, the head of the movement, John Cage, Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys. Each of them contributed not only as an inspiration, but actively, to the activities of the group.
The Fluxus group died with George Maciunas and his funeral, that happened (for the will of Maciunas himself) in the form of a Fluxus performance.
The idea of going against the art market and the elitist art world is a concept that will return in the immediate future after Fluxus: the Performance Art (not possible to be sold by its nature), the Land Art (the same) and the Street Art (rebellious as a statement), all followed the steps of Fluxus.