Culture: Maciunas Dreams Live on at the Baltic; Barbara Hodgson Follows the Ebb and Flow of Fluxus

The Journal (Newcastle, England), November 26, 2008 | Go to article overview

Culture: Maciunas Dreams Live on at the Baltic; Barbara Hodgson Follows the Ebb and Flow of Fluxus


GEORGE Maciunas was a man of extraordinary vision. His Sixties' dream was to purge "dead" art and replace it by simple, multi-media art with a liberal dose of humour.

Then, he wanted to manufacture it, market it and sell it.

His - ultimately doomed - ideal fuelled the imagination of like-minded artists, composers and designers but it was Maciunas who coined the term Fluxus to describe it.

From the Latin "to flow", it gave rise to a range of Fluxus products, such as Fluxfilms and Fluxboxes.

And 350 of them are now on show at the Baltic in Gateshead - the largest display of Fluxus art exhibited in Britain. The newly-opened show, The Dream of Fluxus, is an eclectic mix from a range of artists: an assortment of items; texts; sounds, photographs, and neatly-assembled Fluxboxes containing collections of cards, games and ideas. But most exhibits are by Maciunas himself.

He was like a one-man art movement, agrees curator Thomas Kellein, who's brought the exhibition over from Germany it was previously shown. He explains how Maciunas, who moved with his family from Lithuania to the US in 1948, studied architecture then art history.

"Then he thought why not take the whole avant-garde art system and shape it - and that's how the whole idea of Fluxus came up.

"It had to be 'inter-media': artists doing poetry, literature, performance - he was not interested in simple painters or sculptors. The idea was of socialism in art - taking it away from art galleries and formal publishing houses."

For a short-lived period in 1961, Maciunas ran an art gallery in New York where he hosted exhibitions, events and performances by artists including Yoko Ono, whose Fluxus work is represented here. It was at Maciunas's gallery that she held her first art exhibition, and he'd meet fellow artists at her loft apartment.

One photograph on display shows anti-art activist and musician Henry Flynt's proclamations "down with art" and "down with serious culture". Another is of Fluxus's New York's Canal Street HQ: everyone thought mass produced work would sell and they'd make lots of money.

"But nobody ever bought it," says Kellein. Why?

"Because they didn't think it very attractive" he laughs. "It was Maciunas's dream but, in reality, he was frustrated. Nobody would ever cash in."

High expectations were soon disappointed. …

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