Fluxus is a global, anti-high-art interdisciplinary art movement that all started in New York in 1960, and was founded by George Maciunas (Jurgis Mačiūnas), who was born in Kaunas, Lithuania, and emigrated with his family to the USA because of the Soviet occupation.
Maciunas has described Fluxus as “a fusion of Spike Jones, gags, games, Vaudeville, Cage, and Duchamp.”
“Fluxus”, as a word, came from the Latin meaning “floating”, giving an impression of something changing and moving, not chained to one spot.
In his manifesto for Fluxus, Maciunas mentions a “purge the world of bourgeois sickness”, referring to all that is “intellectual” and lofty in art.
In essence, Fluxus was designed to shake up the art world, since it was determined by its adherents that art had become part of “the Institution” or “the elite”, and therefore needed an injection of reality, or “NON ART REALITY” into the mix.
Preceded by Dada and Futurist art movements, Fluxus cast its net even wider, in terms of what it sought out to accomplish, having an even more profound effect on the world.
And, although many high-minded artistes had not, and still to this day perhaps have not accepted or acknowledged the existence of Fluxus as legitimate movement, Fluxus did what it set out to do and more.
Here’s a quick video that will introduce you to George, and Fluxus…
Who was a part of the Fluxus movement? You may know some of these names: Yoko Ono, Jonas Mekas, George Brecht, Nam Jun Paik, Wolf Vostell, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Ben Vautier, among others.
According to art historians and those-who-pay-attention, one of the main influencers of the Fluxus movement was a French-American artist Marcel Duchamp. He was known as a conceptual artist and the avant-garde Dada wave in the first half of the 20th century.
He is known by many art students as “the urinal guy”, as he was the one that famously called a urinal “Fountain” and signed it with a pseudonym.
How does Duchamp tie in with Fluxus? Well, Henri-Robert-Marcel Duchamp was a French-American painter, sculptor, chess player, and writer whose work is associated with Cubism, Dada, and conceptual art. When he made “Fountain” in 1917, he was on the front lines of avant-garde art, pushing boundaries and enraging critics. But also notice the number of disciplines that Duchamp was involved in, which were many.
This idea of the interdisciplinary avante-garde artist is part of what defined Fluxus artists, decades later. It is true to say that Fluxus artists were all very versatile in terms of their talents, and interests. This is in contrast to artists in days of old, who were usually known to be skilled at one thing and one thing only. To the Fluxus artist, they did not restrict themselves to one medium, and, in fact, many of their works were across multiple disciplines.
New York Avant-Garde Pre-Fluxus
At the beginning of the 1960’s, before Fluxus was officially created or defined in any way as a movement, the art world of New York was popping with various avant-garde performances, Chambers Street loft concerts, readings, or happenings.
Here such artists as Japanese Toshi Ichiyanagi and Yoko Ono or Mac Low and Dick Higgins, as well as George Maciunas himself had performed on various events that had a strong influence on Fluxus later on, borrowing from the Dadaists of the ’20’s and ’30’s.
Next to these performances, artists created their art in physical forms that were becoming increasingly unique, and one of the most known examples of it was “Fluxus boxes”.
It was a real box filled with different things such as game cards, matches, letters, etc.
One of the main ideas that Fluxus was representing, is that the artists combined different materials and media and wanted to see what you can create, making the observer now become part of the art, and, in effect, become an artist themselves.
Also, it’s worth mentioning that the humor factor was very important to Fluxus artists, and looking at the art itself with a little bit of sarcasm was a must. Humor was always considered a quality that art should not portray, but with Fluxus, humor was definitely a part of the “game”.
Next stop: Europe
Meanwhile, as avant-garde events took place in New York, George Maciunas took a job as a graphic designer for the US Air Force base in Wiesbaden, Germany because he was running out of money. Ah, that artist life!
And, although the creator of Fluxus had flown the coop, so to speak, Fluxus itself did not die in New York, nor did it arrive D.O.A. in Europe.
Maciunas created the first Fluxus festival in Germany, during which various performances and concerts were happening to grow the Fluxus movement.
One of the most scandalous performances was when Maciunas together with his friends Emmett Williams, Dick Higgins, and others created an interpretation of famous American musician, Philip Corner’s piano by totally destroying it.
It became so popular in Germany and Europe, that it got a lot of media attention and helped to spread the name of Fluxus around the world.
Coming Home and Getting Married
George Maciunas was definitely one of the most iconic figures of Fluxus. His weird, expressive, and unique ideas sparked the avant-garde art wave and gave a new way to look at what art is and what it is used for.
Even though he died at a young age, right before his death, he had created probably one of the most spectacular events not only of Fluxus, but his own life too.
He married the poet Billie Hutching, who also was his close friend, on February 25, 1978, in SoHo, New York.
The wedding was done in Fluxus style, because, after the official ceremony, they made an official Fluxus ceremony which was filmed by their friend and video artist Dimitri Devyatkin.
During this performance, the couple exchanged their wedding clothes. This act showed that even something as sacred as a marriage can be turned on its head, and it was probably one of Maciunas’s victories against traditionalism itself.