Fluxus Revised and Revisited

By Beckman, Elizabeth; Applefield, Jonathan | Art Journal, Fall 1999 | Go to article overview

Fluxus Revised and Revisited


Beckman, Elizabeth, Applefield, Jonathan, Art Journal


Joan Marter, ed. Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957-1963. Exh. cat. Newark: The Newark Museum and New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999. Essays by Simon Anderson, Joseph Jacobs, Jackson Lears, Marter, Kristine Stiles. 199 PP., 31 color ills., 80 b/w. 560, $30 paper.

Emmett Williams and Ann No4l, eds. MR. FLUXUS.A Collective Portrait of George Maciunas, 193 1 - 1978. London: Thames and Hudson, 1997. 352 pp., b/w ills. $34.95.

Ken Friedman, ed. The Fluxus Reader. Chichester, England: Academy Editions, 1998. Essays by Friedman, Owen Smith, Simon Anderson, Hannah Higgins, Ina Blom, David T. Doris, Craig Saper, Estera Milman, Stephen C. Foster, Nicholas Zurbrugg, Larry Miller, Susan L. Jarosi, Dick Higgins. 309 PP.

The "Rutgers Cirde"George Brecht, Robert Watts, Robert Whitman, Roy Lichtenstein, Allan Kaprow, Lucas Samaras, George Segal, and Geoffrey Hendricks-- was the subject of Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant Garde, 1957-1963, an exhibition organized by the Newark Museum this spring. Curated by Joseph Jacobs, this was one of the most challenging exhibitions in years-for the curator and visitors alike. At a time when museums seek to prioritize entertainment over education, the exhibition entertained and educated simultaneously. it became a funhouse of Fluxus, Pop, Happenings, and whatever category in which one places Samaras's work. At moments it effectively reanimated the original concept of the art on display, while at others, the work remained "off limits"preserved as documents of the past.

Brecht's Solitaire ( 1959), a game consisting of twenty-seven playing cards with instructions, was displayed in a vitrine. A facsimile of the original deck sat on a table for anyone to play. For fifty cents one could buy a book of Watts's stamps from his Stamp Machine (1962). Whitman'S Shower (1962), an assemblage of running water, transparent shower curtain, and projected film footage of a woman bathing, created a new sense of voyeurism for viewers. An index finger pointed visitors from one section or "event" of the exhibition to the next. A trademark of FluxuS typography, the finger made reference to the sign painter's detail in Marcel Duchamp's Tu m' (1918). This sign has been interpreted as representing the declarative, performative act of seeing, naming, and redefining the found object.' This is precisely what many of the works in the exhibition did as these artists realized Duchamp's concepts to their fullest extent.

Some of the work was "off limits." While one would not think of touching a canvas such as Look Mickey (ig6i ), Lichtenstein's first comic strip painting, everyone loves to play with games. Watts's Frog Game (ig6o), a mechanized assemblage that resembled a pinball game with windup toys and blinking lights, was embalmed in a museum case. The game's coiled-up electrical cord laid dead just inches from the wall outlet that could give the toy-art life. One could read the instructions but no longer play the game. Another inactive interactive piece was Brecht's Repository (ig6i), Although the artist originally intended for viewers to replace the shelved objects with substitutes of their own choice, it too was installed in a museum case. On the occasion of an exhibition of a similar work, Medicine Chest (1960), Brecht wrote to the curator, "It is within the spirit of the work that (as in life in general)

parts may be lost, broken, spilled, stolen, replaced, contributed, soiled, cleaned, constructed, destroyed. "' But in both Frog Game and Repository, only the visual pleasure of the work remained, and the original concept of play was short-circuited,

Kaprow side-stepped this problem by reinventing" one of his early Environments. Beauty Parlor IV (1958/99), originally made in 1958 for the Hansa Gallery, was reinvented before, in 1991 at the Fondazione Mudima, Milan.3 In its Newark reinvention, the Environment gave viewers the feeling of being in an arcade with clear plastic walls, mirrors, and colored lights. …

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