The Daily Heller: Always in Flux, Fluxus Was Hard to Pin Down

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Fluxus, like Dada before it, is an odd-sounding word. Its root is flux, and unlike the nonsense word Dada, “flux” has a meaning: To move and change. Akin to Dada, it is a movement of artists working in many media, including the popular and applied arts.

Fluxus artists—which included a range of creators, from Marcel Duchamp to Yoko Ono—loosely coalesced into an ersatz yet definable movement to change art from soup to nuts: the process of making art; what art can be; and, particularly, how art should be part of life. It included graphic design, typography, film—anything that produced an object or image. The ringmaster of this visual circus was George Maciunas in 1963. He engaged and promoted “concept art, anti-art, meaningless work, natural disasters, indeterminacy, improvisation, plans of action, stories, diagrams, music, poetry, essays, dance constructions, mathematics [and] compositions” as part of the Fluxus manufacturing ranks.

In his 1963 Manifesto, founder George Maciunas confirms the importance of physical processes for Fluxus, says Marcia Reed, who is curator of the exhibit “Fluxus Means Change: Jean Brown’s Avant Garde Archive” (on view through Jan. 2 at the Getty Center in Los Angeles). Getty’s holding of Fluxus materials, most in the form of paper, 3D and other ephemera, is extensive and mostly from the Collection of Jean Brown who, with her husband, passionately acquired everything possible from the artists they befriended in the movement.

Fluxus was known for its sense of humor and especially visual and verbal puns “that found their objects in the rituals of daily life, making time for lunch and games, attending to washing your face, and thinking about going fishing,” says Reed. Fluxus prefigured the hippie and underground alternative culture art and design movements that emerged in the mid-’60s. While there was some crossover, Fluxus artists did not integrate as a rule with the other proto-avant gardes, although Fluxus members could be found everywhere.

Moreover: “Fluxus’ signature insight was that the best things in life are simple and often free. Fluxus was both a movement as well as a rebellion against the rigors of movements. … Using verbatim dictionary definitions that veer toward the scatological or potty-mouthed, Maciunas includes everything from activities that take place in the privacy of one’s bathroom to scientific descriptions of elemental changes at the atomic level. An unsettling bodily discharge is introduced to endorse Maciunas’ recommendations for a purge of both ideas and art. The earthiness and even crudeness of Manifesto stresses Fluxus’ effort to redirect art away from the pretentious elitism of galleries and museums, returning it to sincere human expression.”

Photos via Bob Brown/Reinhold Brown