PRINT March 1991


THE EAST EUROPEAN REVOLUTION produced a playwright-president, Vaclav Havel in Czechoslovakia, but few people know that it also produced a Fluxus-president: Vytautas Landsbergis, the president of Lithuania. During the spring of 1990, the image of this bespectacled and stoop-shouldered “music professor” paraded across the TV news every day. He successfully defied the blockade of Soviet power and the “benevolent” advice of the Western press to go slow lest he destroy the superpower summit. When Gorbachev received the Nobel Prize, Landsbergis sent him a congratulatory telegram: “Your Majesty. . . . ”

This audacious style of David-and-Goliath situation strongly reminded me of Landsbergis’ best friend, George Maciunas, founder of the “small” Fluxus Movement and the “enormous” SoHo glitz.

Landsbergis and Maciunas were both the sons of well-to-do architects, and were best friends at a grade school in Kaunas, Lithuania, in the last peaceful days of prewar Europe. The Soviet-German occupation/war/retreat with the German army/hunger/the displaced person’s camp/his father’s enigmatic death (suicide?)/the vanity of New York/capitalism’s “contradictions” —all these horrendous things made George Maciunas a heavy asthmatic, a fanatical do-goodist, an ego-centrist, and a part-time paranoiac. In 1965, as a native Marxist, Maciunas contacted the old friend he had left in Lithuania, who was alas a burning anti-Marxist. In response, in a letter of December 5 1963, Landsbergis sent Maciunas some subversive performance ideas:

A Sewer’s Hymn
“The performer walks on stage, pulls out from a bag a dozen licey rats and throws them at the public! / this would be work for people, animals and the public. / Do not take this as a joke, these are chance ideas which could, in thousands, come to a head, in Fluxus spirit.”

Landsbergis, although still confined in Soviet Lithuania, participated three times in the Fluxus mail-art event organized by Mieko Shiomi from Osaka, Japan. Two examples from 1966 are:

Spatial Poem No. 3
“Falling Event. Various things were let fall: Vytautas Landsbergis caught a pike at the lake of Aisetas, cleaned its entrails and threw them into a pit towards the center of the earth. Then he cut the pike into pieces and let them fall onto a frying pan.”
Lithuania, July 31, 1966

Spatial Poem No. 5
“Open Event. People opened . . . Vytautas Landsbergis. A day after my return from the country to my flat in Vilnius, I opened the lid of my piano and hit the keyboard of F sharp.When the sound died down completely, I went to my study to continue on some unfinished work.”
Vilnius, 1 PM July 23, 1972

In 1964 Maciunas picketed Karlheinz Stockhausen’s music-play Originale, played by myself and other Fluxus members on 57th Street. He accused us (or me in particular?) of being “social climbers” and Stockhausen of being a “racist” and a “cultural imperialist” because the latter did not have a high regard for jazz: the Black people’s invention. (Maciunas even let the French Fluxus member Ben Vautier picket John Cage and Merce Cunningham in Nice for a similar reason in 1965.)

However, we (Allan Kaprow, Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low, Charlotte Moorman, Ayo, and myself) continued the Originale performance inside the Judson Hall at 57th Street.

Feeling betrayed by his comrades, Maciunas, the chairman of Fluxus, declared Fluxus dead and plunged himself into the SoHo housing project. He won a landmark decision to convert a light-manufacturing loft building into an artist studio residence. He endowed the venerable Fluxus name on the first artist co-op in SoHo, at 80 Wooster Street. The similar conversion of twenty-seven buildings followed at no profit to him, igniting the SoHo real estate boom. In 1978, Maciunas finished his life at forty-seven in poverty, betrayed by his tenants, co-op members, and real estate interests.

That same year, Joseph Beuys and I performed a farewell sonata for him at the Düsseldorf Kunstakademie. Soon a quiet renaissance of Fluxus began, and behind the Iron Curtain, the slow renaissance of Lithuania was growing, led by the stubborn ex-Fluxus man Vytautas Landsbergis.

Recently the correspondence of these two giants from a minination was printed in the Lithuanian music magazine The Young Music. When he was dying, in 1978, Maciunas entrusted his part of the correspondence to Jonas Mekas, and President Landsbergis kept his half for the past quarter century in the long winters of resistance.