May 7 – July 10, 2009
Opening Reception: Thursday, May 7, 6 – 8 pm
The concept of Do It Yourself began as a philosophy related to the American Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century in which a search for an authentic, meaningful style was carried out as a reaction to the “soulless” aesthetic that developed out of the Industrial Revolution. A DIY subculture soon followed, explicitly critiquing modern consumer culture while encouraging people to take technologies and civic responsibilities into their own hands to solve needs. The exhibition examines how the Fluxus movement of the 1960s applied the DIY philosophy to practice, establishing an interdisciplinary, anti-art approach directed towards bridging the gap between artist community and society. First coined by its charismatic “Chairman” George Maciunas in 1961, Fluxus described a movement with origins in Futurist Theater, silent film, Zen,comedy, Vaudeville, and Dada. The movement aimed to interrupt the rigidly hierarchal, formalist conventions of postwar art and the burgeoning commodity culture of the 1960s. Critical to Fluxus’ DIY objective was a reconstruction of the arts from a context of consumer culture and passive reception to an active culture of engagement. Artists collectively viewed themselves as social catalysts carrying out communal projects that pioneered the exploration of artistic collaboration, ‘intermedia,’sexual politics, and racial diversity. Fluxus influenced conceptual art, performance art, political art, mail art, minimalism, artists’ books, new music, and mass-produced art. Often viewed as humorous, thrifty, ephemeral, and spontaneous, the featured works reveal a deeper set of utopian ideals in which attributes of Efficiency, Economy, Form andFunction could stimulate social change. On view will be works on paper, film, posters, diagrams, maps,charts, and documents by artists George Maciunas, Jonas Mekas, George Brecht, Ben Vautier, Yoko Ono, Paul Sharits, Henry Flynt, Shigeko Kubota, Ken Friedman, Chieko Shiomi, and La Monte Young.
George Maciunas’ anarchic flair attracted like minds who infused Fluxus with intelligence and wit. Influenced by the ready-made sounds of avant-garde composer John Cage, ready-made objects of Marcel Duchamp, and ready-made actions and gestures of Ben Vautier and George Brecht, Fluxus advocated a ‘concrete art’derived from daily life. Emphasis shifted from what an artist makes to the artist’s personality, actions, opinions, and theories. A progressive artist/theorist, inventor, and cultural entrepreneur, Maciunas rigorously instilled these views in his graphic work for Fluxus, and visionary architectural projectsPrefabricated Building System and Fluxhouse Cooperativesin downtown SoHo, New York. Trained ingraphic design and architecture at Cooper Union School of Art, he contributed to the work of many artists in the exhibition with his text and image based designs. He developed a branded identity for Fluxus, defining its copyright, trademark, logos, letterheads, name cards, envelopes, posters, and three-dimensional announcements and displays. Unveiled for the first time will be a never fully realized graphic project by Maciunas. The works are based on medieval illustrations and etchings of cruelty and torture, also on view, revealing his conceptual process.
Do It Yourself Fluxfest (1966), a 20-piece collection conjoining short instructional texts by Ono with Maciunas’ graphic illustrations. First printed in “3 newspaper events for the price of $1,” the No. 7, February 1966 issue of the Fluxus magazine cc V TRE, the compilation underscores the Fluxus idea that anyone can make art. These amusing pieces find meaning in the humorous dialogue that exists between Ono’s instructions and Maciunas’ skillful treatment of text with relation to pictorial motifs.
On exhibit for the first time in its entirety is a rare and extensive work entitled European and Siberian Art of Migrations (1955-60), consisting of 39 individual pieces that Maciunas created while studying at New York University. He produced a large collection of similar charts, diagrams, and atlases between 1956 and 1975, in which he scientifically compiled incredible amounts of information into geo-historical representations. Parallels are made between space and time and their dissolution into succession, establishing an orderly system that integrates historical and geographical knowledge. Maciunas’ system made clear not only political, economic, poetic, and aesthetic relationships, but also predetermined the geo-historical framework of Fluxus. By 1969, he had developed his theory of the “learning machine.” A criticism of the linear narratives of books, lectures, and traditional forms of learning, Maciunas’ theory called for improvements in methods of transmitting information and learning.
A 60 piece collection of George Brecht’s groundbreaking “event scores” (c. 1960s) will be on view. Designed by Maciunas, these minimal works consist of words and short instructional phrases printed in black ink type on small white card stock. Influenced by the theories of John Cage, Brecht conceived of his “event scores” as an extension of music culminating in a multi-sensory experience that was open, generative, andundefined, rejecting any possibility of “authorship.” Mediating between language and performance, they are realized in the “readymade” actions of everyday situations, emphasizing the unity of art and life. Maciunas regarded Brecht’s work for its inclusive, antihierarchal, and accessible attributes viewing it as the archetype of Fluxus performance.
Important to the history of Fluxus is An Anthology (1961-1963), a rare book that will be part of the show’s archival presentation. A pre-Fluxus publication designed and edited by Maciunas and conceived by La Monte Young, it contains works by artists who would later become a core part of the movement. Maciunas produced it using his IBM Executive Typewriter with the sans serif font that characterized his Fluxus typography.
The exhibition will also feature Maciunas’ Name Tags (1964-68), playful interpretations of artists’ names including Emmett Williams, Diter Rot, Benjamin Patterson, and Barbara Moore expressed in Fluxus’ signature typography and design. Also on view will be Shigeko Kubota’s Flux Napkins (1965) and Chieko Shiomi’s Spatial Poem no. 2: A Flux Atlas(1968), Fluxus graphic projects produced in collaboration with Maciunas. Screening through out the gallery is a selection of films from Fluxfilm Anthology featuring Paul Sharits’ Word Movie(1966), Sears Catalogue 1-3, Dots 1&3, Wrist Trick, and Unrolling Event and Ben Vautier’s Jen e vois rien Je n’entends rien Jen e dis rien (1966), La traverse du port de Nice á la nage(1963), Fair un effort (1969), Regardez moi cela suffit (1962). Henry Flynt’s pamphlet (1965) makes a systematic evaluation of the political and social implications of contemporary design and its effects on culture spanning areas such as architecture, music, cars, and film.D.I.Y. will be accompanied with an original essay by Fluxus artist and scholar Ken Friedman.
D.I.Y. marks the 31st anniversary of George Maciunas’ passing. The exhibition has been organized and produced by Harry Stendhal.