main: October 2009 Archives
A recent exhibition at the Stendhal Gallery in Chelsea gave pause for thought. And another chance to play catch-up with Fluxus, during what might be a Neo-Fluxus period. Solidified just before Conceptual Art per se, Fluxus was truly international. To the accusation that Fluxus is just Dada in sheep's clothing, Fluxians would reply that unlike Dada, their religion accentuates the positive rather than the negative. Fluxus is often humorous, but humor in art is no laughing matter. Fluxus humor is not what the Surrealists called "black humor." It doesn't go for the jugular. Nevertheless, unlike a great deal of current art, the Fluxus institutional critique is structural rather than rhetorical and not just a barely disguised plea for membership in the club.
"Ken Friedman: 99 Events" presented that number of the artist's scores, plus 38 handwritten "drawings" (some with collage elements) documenting Events from 1982 to 1990, but executed in this format last year. In total, the 137 pieces (1956-2009) cover a wide range of Fluxus genres:
1. Instructions for activities in front of an audience.
Go on stage naked, covered with paint.
Dress and leave stage.
First performed at the Avenue C FluxusRoom in New York in October, 1966.
2. Instructions for activities without an audience.
Mail a hat.
3. Instructions for making exhibitions
Place things on the floor.
Herewith, because it is so revealing about his approach to art, I append a slightly edited note about the piece, published in the online catalog.
In 1970, I had a conversation with the director of the art gallery at University of California at Santa Barbara about the possibility of an exhibition at the university. He invited me to visit him, asking me to bring examples of my work and some of the pieces I might like to exhibit...
I made an appointment to see him. The day that I left, I grabbed a selection of objects and projects from my stucio, threw them into a box, and took them with me. When I got to Santa Barbara, we spoke together for a while. Then he asked me to bring in my work...
I brought the box into his office, opened it, and unpacked the objects, placing them on the floor, along the length of a wall. He looked at the objects for a while. Perhaps it was a long while. I am not sure, but it seemed that way to me.
Finally, he looked at me and said, "But these are just ordinary objects."
At first, I thought he understood my work quite well.
Later, I realized that he saw these objects in a very different way than I did.
4. Instructions for making a nuisance of yourself.
Fast Food Event
Go into a fast food restaurant.
Order one example
of every item on the menu.
Line everything up
in a row on the table.
Eat the items one at a time,
starting at one end of the row
and moving systematically
from each to the next.
Finish each item before
moving on to the next.
Eat rapidly and methodically
until all the food is finished.
Eat as fast as possible
without eating too fast.
Do not make a mess.
But that's not all. There are examples of Mail Art, Radio Art, Street Works, Earth Art, and much more.
Furthermore, the future is here:
The 99 "scores" can be perused in the free-to-download online catalog, here and there replete with very, very interesting, longish notes by Friedman. This, by the way, is the wave of the future. All gallery and museum catalogs will be available for free online. Think of all the trees that will be spared and all of the storage space now used for unsold tomes that will be released. Think of all the shelf-space that will be liberated. Think of those who will be able to see and read about a show who wouldn't have been able to do that before.
Friedman (b. 1945), operating under Dick Higgins' advice that one should earn one's living outside of artmaking, after a long teaching stint at the Norwegian School of Management in Oslo is now the Dean of the Design Faculty of Swinburne University of Technology, Melbourne, Australia.
"99 Events" fully reveals Friedman as an important Fluxist. He has been consciously making Fluxist art since 1965, so he can have no Fluxus founder-claims. It is still between George Brecht, who inaugurated the terms for and practices of Events and Event Scores around 1961, and George Maciunas, who invented the Fluxus rubric in1962, which for all practical purposes subsumed Events.
Question: Which takes precedence, the form or the term?
But Friedman does have some bragging rights.
When Maciunas initiated him, our upstart had achieved the ripe old age of 16, making him the youngest Fluxian ever; not first, but youngest, and making Fluxus the first art movement to engender a second generation in the record time of three years.
However, in the online catalog, Friedman claims he was making Fluxian events before he knew the term and before Dick Higgins (first-generation Fluxist and publisher of the Fluxarian Something Else Press) convinced him he was an artist, sending him over to George Maciunas with one of his pieces in hand. Here are the Fluxus prodigy's instructions for said Pre-Fluxus work:
Open and Shut Case
Make a box.
On the outside,
print the word "Open".
On the inside,
print the words "Shut quick".
A further description of the anointment:
Maciunas peppered me with questions. What did I do? What did I think? What was I planning? At that time, I was planning to become a Unitarian minister. I did all sorts of things, things without names, things that jumped over the boundaries between ideas and actions, between the manufacture of objects and books, between philosophy and literature. Maciunas listened for a while and invited me to join Fluxus. I said yes.
A short while later, George asked me what kind of artist I was. Until that moment, I had never thought of myself as an artist. George thought about this for a minute, and said, "You're a concept artist."
It always pleased me that I became part of Fluxus before I became an artist.
Friedman had made other Fluxus Events -- although he did not know enough to think of them as art works -- even earlier. Here is one the precocious lad from New London, Connecticut, made when he was 11 years old and the first to be documented in "99 Events":
Go to a public monument on the first day of spring.
Clean it thoroughly.
No announcement is necessary.
This is amazingly pre-Fluxian. The assumption is that an activity, even if it is not conceived of as or presented as an artwork, can still be classified as belonging to an art category that has not yet been invented.
Both the Dadaist and Surrealists claimed certain artists and writers as their own ... retroactively. Alfred Jarry (1873-1907) was a favorite. But as far as I know, Jarry did not deem himself a Dadaist or Surrealist before the fact.
Fluxality: The End of the Game
Paradoxically, the only way we know the little we know about Fluxus is because of the object-based, ego-based, profit-based art system it taunted. Still, Fluxian questions are still relevant.
Can we have art without galleries and museums, art without art criticism, art
without investors, art without professionalized artists?
How many variations on a Fluxus score can you make? Are there gaps? Are there any possibilities left for "invention"? And for connoisseurs and marketeers here is the all-important question: stripped of signature and tell-tale context, can you tell whose work you are reading? Can you tell one Fluxus score from another?
If you can't, maybe that's the point.
Fluxus at its purest, like Dada, is a way of life. In other words -- please don't be shocked -- it's a spiritual practice.
I will let Ken Friedman have the last word:
Imagine a life.
* * *
Well, not quite the last word.
An exhibition examining the work of George Maciunas is at the Stendhal Gallery (545 West 20th Street), opening Oct.31.
Many other Fluxians also need a second look. I am thinking about:
Geoff Hendricks (b. 1935) whose cloud paintings (!) stick in the mind.
Geoff Hendricks: Sky Pillow Cases, 1965
Fluxusatrix Alison Knowles (b. 1933) who is still actively creating Fluxus events, particularly abroad. Here is her re-flux (2008) of her earlier version (1962).
And shouldn't we look at Robert Filliou (1926-1987), who joined the French Resistance in 1943, was a trained economist, and invented: Homophonic Translation,Telepathic Music, Art's Birthday*, and (see Friedman's note on p. 25 of "99 Events") Poetic Economics..... Who was Filliou? He proclaimed about himself "nationality = poet/ profession = French."
*also: Art's Birthday Event, 2009.
In 1962, determined to remain outside the exhibition circuit, Robert Filliou carried his gallery in his hat. He became his own exhibition space: "La Galerie Légitime" [The Legitimate Gallery]. His works, gathered together in his beret and stamped "Galerie Légitime Couvre Chef ''Oeuvre" [Legitimate Gallery Masterpiece Hat], circulated in the streets with him (the idea is reminiscent of Marcel Duchamp's suitcase). He then met George Maciunas, the centralizer of the activities of Fluxus. "La Galerie Légitime" invited several artists to exhibit in it. This was an art made up of attitudes and gestures, rather than saleable works.
Catherine Ouy, NewMedia.org
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William Pope.L,YARD (To Harrow), 2009; "reinvention" of Allan Kaprow'sYARD, 1961
Part One: Art By the Yard
Allan Kaprow's Yard, now in its 15th reincarnation, celebrates the new quarters (32 E. 69th St.) of Hauser & Wirth, formerly only of Zurich and London. From beyond the grave, Kaprow (1927-2006) is still posing questions of authority, authorization, and notions of the artist as author rather than maker.
The Hauser & Wirth exhibition (to Oct. 24) is by our esteemed forebearer because the gallery has commissioned three celebratory reinventions of his historic environment. There is also an entire room of documents. This is the kind of exhibition that in a better world we might expect a museum to launch. But a gallery can turn on a dime; museums take years to come up with their usually boring, unimaginative exhibitions.
If we delve a bit into Kaprow's post-Happenings oeuvre, we see that the inauguration of what he called "reinventions" was both a solution and an ongoing problematic. He allowed and perhaps required the reinvention rather than the re-creation of his "activities" and his ephemeral sculptures such as Yard (1961) or Fluids (1967), the outdoor structure made of -- and to be remade of -- blocks of ice.
What is important about Kaprow is that he actually accomplished what the wimpy postmodernist academics of the past three decades never actually did -- or did in word only. He de-centered art. And I don't mean he decentered it by moving to California to take advantage of teaching opportunities.
Which he did do. Which he could do, because he was famous, even only as the inventor of Happenings.
Allan Kaprow:18 Happenings in 6 Parts (detail), 1959.
Kaprow playing musical instrument.
Part Two: California, Here I Come
In the past I have found fault with the "activities" because they suggest the therapeutic, and to this day I am wary of Kaprow's exploitation of participation and collaboration.
For instance, here is a short section of an activities score for Match, 1975:
(in light) A and B. silently exchanging
each other' others clothes
until clocked signals
15 minutes have passed
(in dark) A. and B. lying on floor
on opposites side of room
A. occasionally saying
"It's a perfect fit."
B. precisely copying A.
until clock signals
30 minutes have passed
I am, however, relieved that his papers have ended up in the archives of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles. That, not some museum, is the major repository of his work. A 2008 traveling exhibition called "Allan Kaprow: Art and Life" seems to have been mostly drawn from the Archive, and indeed the accompanying tome weaves together ephemera, media manifestations, photos and scripts; it is an invaluable resource.
Provisos notwithstanding, Kaprow is, as he hoped to be, Jackson Pollock's true successor -- not those painters of merely pleasing paintings that critic Clement Greenberg pushed. In Kaprow's hands (sic), theater became a positive value once again. He is also the legitimate successor to de Kooning, whether he would have liked that or not. Without Action Painting and de Kooning's violent expressionism there would not be messy Happenings, messy Environments.
Now, however, Kaprow seems merely the heir of Futurist and Dada "theater" and even Surrealist games and installations. It was not that these precedents were off his radar, but at the time they weren't a well-considered aspect of the art discourse. Happenings and other time-based inventions have nowadays made them essential.
Kaprow accomplished this antiformalist but not necessarily antimodernist coup by finding new heroes, such as composer John Cage, and in spite of his friendships with Pop artists, by going against the grain of received art-world wisdom.
That is why he had little or no critical support. How could he? He was not yet even indirectly tied to the art market.
Painter Fairfield Porter, then a critic, wrote in the Nation about Kaprow's first Happening, called 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, staged at the artist-run Reuben Gallery in 1959:
If he wants to prove that certain things can't be done again because they have already been done, he couldn't be more convincing...The "Eighteen Happenings" devalue all art by a meaningless and deliberate surgery. And the final totality is without character; it never takes off from the sidewalk.
In retrospect, one might think the painter Porter, who came to specialize in sunny porches and tidy domestic scenes, might have found some kinship with Kaprow's valorization of the quotidian. Porter was a better writer than a painter. At his best he managed the startling plainness of dance critic Edwin Denby. But he was, unlike Denby, a better writer than a critic.
With a reception like Porter's (who in person was a kindly man), it is no wonder Kaprow took pen to hand, not only to issue essays, now collected, but also in one case to write his own notice.
On Jan. 12, 1961, the Village Voice published an over-the-transom piece by a certain Theodore Tucker headlined "An Apple Shrine at the Judson Gallery." It was a review of Kaprow's labyrinthine environment of chicken-wire and newspaper -- written by the artist himself:
Beneath the surface of each confrontation with the work is the doubt that it is art at all. There is a distrust and fear of an expression that is short-lived by intention. As though this were subtly calling upon death itself.... Far beyond the "Apple Shrine's" actual content and humanity stands Kaprow's inadvertent quarrel with all the vapid glories, qualities and eternities which we think are history.
Part Three: Re-Tiring
The most direct reinvention of Yard is at Hauser & Wirth itself and is a lookalike reenactment by William Pope.L, who titles his version YARD (To Harrow). In this case, rented tires are jammed into the basement level of the building and not in the small courtyard out back, which had been the original site.
Allan Kaprow:Yard, 1961
Opening Reception, YARD, 1961. Kaprow second from right.
Yes, it is entirely fitting that this is the H.&W. inaugural Big Apple foray. At this very same address, the first Yard was the most attention-getting component of the Martha Jackson Gallery 1961 exhibition "Environments -- Situations --Spaces." There were also works by George Brecht, Jim Dine, Walter Gaudnek, AI, Claes Oldenburg, and Robert Whitman. Brecht's piece, probably the only other work of lasting significance, was nearly the opposite of Yard: the presentation of a single chair. Here is dance critic Jill Johnston's description in her Village Voice summation:
George Brecht is always clean as a clipped wing, airy, cheerful and self-disappearing. He had a little white room just off the yard with a nice, white chair in it, comfortable for a Cape Cod porch...his first two statements [in the accompanying brochure] are A. nothing special; b. no theory.
But more about Brecht later.
FOUR: Yard Art
Vis-à-vis the original Yard, I remember that a few statues were concealed by tarpaper and you could look down upon the entire tire pile from a gallery window on the second floor.
Now, deep inside the building in William Pope.L's reinvention, black plastic covers a desk and all accoutrements. And there is a rack of very un-Kaprow body bags concealing manikins (according to the gallerina I spoke to) or ooze (according to the New York Times). Sound and on/off lighting have been added, but to no effect. Visitors may sit on the tires, which is historically correct and shows Kaprow's incorporation of audience participation. That the tires are not from 1961 is of no import. As we all know, used tires are eternal.
Pope.L's redo is darker then the earlier, plainer version. Suffice it to say, aside from constructing ecological Earthship homes out of old tires -- for a million plus -- we have still not figured out what to do with all those rubber tires filling up dumps around the globe.
Earthship (Biotexture) ecological house made of used tires and other recycled materials.
Further afield, the second Hauser & Wirth commission was offered by Sharon Hayes. Referencing Kaprow's image for an ancient Martha Jackson poster, an accumulation of handmade yard-sale signs were installed at the N.Y. Marble Cemetery on lower Second Avenue during the weekend of October 3
The third reinvention was by Josiah McElheny. Offered at the Queens Museum of Art, YARD (Junk Yard) was a gigantic projection of an aerial photo of the Iron Triangle junkyards of Queens, projected on the outside of the N.Y. Panorama (unfortunately only until Oct. 4). It was a breathtaking image, perfectly presented, and I searched for tires amid the wreckage. And found them.
Josiah McElheny: YARD (Junk Yard), 2009
McElheney: YARD (Junk Yard), detail
Allan Kaprow preparing 18 Happenings in 6 Parts.
Part Five: Some Thoughts on Kaprow and Art History
Allan Kaprow, justly acclaimed as the inventor of Happenings, certainly did not operate outside of art history. A professor of art history at Rutgers (when there were still such jobs to be had), he had studied under the great Meyer Schapiro at Columbia. So he knew where art had been, all the way up to Pollock and de Kooning. And as an artist he knew where he wanted it to go. Basically, his collages became assemblage (influenced by Robert Rauschenberg's early Combines.) The assemblage grew and grew and without even a polite nod to Kurt Schwitters became walk-ins or what he began calling "environments." another term he invented.
Under the influence of classes taken with our hero John Cage at the New School for Social Research, Environments became Happenings. Although anti-establishment, Kaprow did show in galleries when they were co-ops, like the Hansen, the Reuben, and the nonprofit Judson Gallery in the basement of Judson Church. Otherwise he steered clear (I first typed: "seered clear") of the blue-chip art market, which usually controls art history in subtle and not so subtle ways. Until recently, there was little of his work to sell besides pamphlets and posters.
Nevertheless, Kaprow is in most surveys of art. I shall hypothesize that his late-career entries into the museum milieu helped. Sequestered in various California art departments, he had time to reinvent himself and to re-deploy his time-based, virtually unsalable art.
How did he manage this feat?
He was not a cultural icon like Marcel Duchamp or Andy Warhol. Aphorisms were not his métier. Aside from a few bright students, he had no entourage. The very nature of his work emphasized the banalities of everyday life. There was no mystique. He was never shot down by Russian gunfire, to be rescued by peasants wrapping him in wool and fat. He did not wear a silver wig. He hadn't climbed along a ceiling dressed in only a jock-strap. He never painted himself wearing adult diapers. He never had plastic surgery to turn himself into a perpetually grinning 28-year-old corporate stand-in.
He did, however, have a peculiar cross to bear.
The term "Happenings" is pretty much his fault, but as his works became leaner, moved outdoors, and his scripts got boiled down to mere sentences, he began to call what he was doing "Activities." I imagine he was annoyed by the appropriation of his term to refer to raucous parties, love-ins, and sales events in department stores. There's even a Supreme's song called The Happening. The packaging ate what was packaged. But it also gave him a tag.
The reinventions reinvented his career. Key pieces were replicated, more or less, throughout the art world. The reinventions were intended to have the aura of the participatory, but some very strict rules applied.
Near the end, when contemporary curator Stephanie Rosenthal of the Haus der Kunst, Munich, was working on "Allan Kaprow: Art as Life" retrospective, she reports in the Getty catalogue/book that the artist offered the following:
Kaprow stipulated that wherever possible, responsibility should be given to a single leader. The form of the new version would be dependent upon the leader, the time, the place, and the participants...Kaprow's guidelines [for individual works] gave the new leader a point of reference to work with and against, so that he or she could avoid being overwhelmed by possibilities. Kaprow's only request was that he not be personally involved or asked for advice, although he wanted to be kept informed of events.
Part Six: Happening v. Events; Kaprow v. Brecht
George Brecht: Chair Event, 1966
And what of Kaprow's contemporary, George Brecht? Brecht (1926-2008) was a New Jersey neighbor and also a friend of Kaprow's Pop Art pal George Segal. Segal was a chicken farmer; Brecht, a chemist. Kaprow was teaching at Rutgers. In the last Artopia entry, focused on the Neo-Fluxus trend, I stated: "With the exception of works by the truly original George Brecht, Fluxus was pretty much an outgrowth and a minimalization of Happenings and/or a music phenomenon."
I have been gently called to task by a latter-day Fluxian who thinks that Fluxus was independent of Happenings and developed simultaneously. However, a little research will show that Kaprow and Brecht attended Cage's New School classes together. Yet Kaprow's first Happening is thought to be the 1959 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, which was slightly before Brecht's proto-Fluxus Event Scores. Brecht's earlier works had complicated scripts, like Kaprow's Happenings. The term "Fluxus," however, was invented later by facilitator George Maciunas in 1962. I am right! If only by a hair.
And here is something else to consider.
Whereas Brecht had no doubts about joining up with or fears of being subsumed by Fluxus, Kaprow himself wanted no part of it:
George and I couldn't get along. Indeed, he approached me as he did everybody else to sign my entire career away to him, and I thought this was a Fluxus joke. So I said, "Up yours." And he took it seriously. But he was a marvelous man. I mean the energy and cohesion that he gave to a disparate number of artists around the world was extraordinary. So I don't say this unpleasant part [of] history with any kind of rancor. It was like oil and water.
Interview with Allan Kaprow, Dallas Library, 1988.
And here's a sample of Maciunas-iana:
HE MUST DEMONSTRATE OWN DISPENSABILITY, HE MUST DEMONSTRATE
SELFSUFFICIENCY OF THE AUDIENCE, HE MUST DEMONSTRATE THAT ANYTHING
CAN SUBSITUTE ART AND ANYONE CAN DO IT. THEREFORE THIS SUBSTITUTE
ART AMUSEMENT MUST BE SIMPLE,AMUSING, CONCERNED WITH INSIGNIFICANCES.
HAVE NO COMMODITY OR INSTITUTIONAL VALUE. IT MUST BE UNLIMITED, OBTAINABLE BY ALL AND EVENTUALLY PRODUCED BY ALL. THE ARIST DOING ART MEANWHILE,TO JUSTIFY HIS INCOME, MUST DEMONSTRATE THAT ONLY HE CAN DO ART. ART THEREFORE MUST APPEAR TO BE COMPLEX, INTELLECTUAL, EXCLUSIVE, INDISPENSABLE, INSPIRED. TO RAISE ITS COMMODITY VALUE IT IS MADE TO BE
RARE, LIMITED IN QUANTITY AND THEREFORE ACCESSIBLE NOT TO THE MASSES BUT TO THE SOCIAL ELITE.
FLUXMANIFEST ON ART AMUSEMENT
by GEORGE MACIUNAS, 1965. Available at artnotart.com
Actually, looking through the Getty compendium, it is clear that as Kaprow began to call his works "Activities," he was becoming more and more Fluxian, in terms of the simplicity -- and sometimes the ambiguity -- of his instructions for pieces.
Here is an early example:
A block of ice and a bale of straw are
placed near on another somewhere.
The ice melts slowly.
The bale is reduced straw by straw
until nothing remains.
Compare this to Brecht's: Three Dances (1961)
Or the undated Air Conditioning
(move through the place)
Am I splitting hairs? The very process of trying to make distinctions, even if they are only temporary, can help us see. Although Brecht was, I think, as thought-provoking an artist as Kaprow, he made the following horrible mistakes:
He was a research chemist and not a professor of art history. He participated in Fluxus. He did not invent any new art terms. He issued fewer art products than even Kaprow. And worst of all, unmindful of John Cage's advice, he moved to Europe.
The N.Y. Times obituary for cult-figure Brecht, by Times art critic Ken Johnson, ran and still runs under the Music category, which is more than odd. His piece consisting of dismantling a violin, might be an homage to his musician father, who committed suicide. And his Drip Music might be considered music. Nevertheless, whatever fame Brecht has is art-world fame.
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