Fluxus was an international group of thinkers, artists, composers, performers and designers that first networked themselves together in the late 1950s, then became a performance collective when they took their name in 1962, then a way of working with time and materials and eventually an art movement creating work in several dimensions and media that lasted from the early 60s through the late 70s and beyond on three continents, blazing the aesthetic trails that were to define the next half century of art history. They shattered old aesthetic boundaries and explored new ones, while grappling internally with their communal identity, under the guidance of their own conflicting, shifting, and morphing opinions of who they were and what they were up to as both a group and as individuals, without clear or firm parameters of what criteria might define their association. They ebbed and flowed as a collective, against the odds, disappearing and reemerging like a simple but mysterious prop in a magician’s routine, through schisms, chasms, reorganizations and excommunications.
Many members are now gone, some deceased, some scurrying away quietly in the night under the radar with others lionized in enormous spotlights in life and in death, with the final few, more than a handful, still amongst us today, creating dynamic new senior citizen fluxworks or as in the case of the youngest members, now in very late middle age, finally enjoying their occasional new-found status as Old Masters, dog-tired “concept” artists who taught a very old art world a few new tricks.
Fluxus has always defied traditions by establishing new ones, transcended geographical limitations by staking out unfamiliar territory, and most importantly by virtually fusing together in deceptively simple ways all the medium-based approaches of the middle 20th Century, creating entirely new genres that we take for granted today out of the old ones as a replacement status quo for a New Millennium. Fluxus participants were among the first to embrace a “do-it-yourself” mindset, exposing process as superior to end products while producing startling and surprising results, circumventing existing institutions by utilizing everyday objects, approaches and activities to successfully blur boundaries between art and life.
George Maciunas, a made-to-order autocrat for his times and the group’s Lithuanian-born gatekeeper and visionary czar, instigated and organized art experiences as a collaborative social process, breathing new creativity into an established art world that slowly came to accept the group’s contributions not only as valid but as important and essential to the changing times. Maciunas and the other Fluxus artists he attempted to control, individually and en masse, created thought-provoking works that turned an elusive, ephemeral approach to shaping ethereal forces of anarchy into playful manifestations of art “product” existing in two and three dimensions or as events in time, captured and frozen by their instructions and posters or in beautiful photographs or by-products. They created art that resonated like poems for their times or like zen koans producing a series of aftershocks more akin to spiritual experiences or thrills had in any amusement park or both than to the conventional aesthetics and other familiar goings on in the staid commercial art world. They delivered work that goosed their audiences or tickled onlookers with subtle punch lines that forced their creative contemporaries and the public at large to approach life in the decades since, whether they knew it or not, with a freshly minted Fluxus attitude of their own that they themselves slyly assumed they had invented.
But Fluxus had bubbled up from within and rendered an art world constitutionally unprepared to assimilate it, defenseless against its playful reach. Fifty years ago, Fluxus began to prepare the fertile ground required for a completely transformed art world to emerge in another century and they did so elegantly, admirably and without much hype or fanfare.