New York

“Fluxus: Selections from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Collection”

Fluxus was fun art. Sometimes it was a little dumb, but most of the artists, and especially George Maciunas, the ostensible leader and founder, rode with skill and humor the fine line between puerility and subversion. Maciunas’ proclaimed antiart stance and his insistence on “art nihilism” enabled him to be engaged in the very serious struggle of discrediting the meaning-filled art object and of championing the action-oriented events, performances, and publications that were being produced as Fluxus. Not all of the Fluxus artists were as polemical as Maciunas, and many of them went on to greater commercial success by producing very weighty objects. These artists—Nam June Paik, Christian Boltanski, and Per Kirkeby, to name just a few—still show traces of the Fluxus spirit in their present-day work.

Despite the movement’s largely conceptual outlook, its objects—the Fluxkits, and editions of the magazine Fluxus—are incredibly tantalizing things to look at. (The first edition of the magazine, for instance, came in a wooden box, bound together by three bolts.) Unfortunately, the vitrines in the Museum of Modern Art library (a rather humble spot for such an important show) were crammed with documents, boxes, objects, and texts, so that viewing conditions were less than ideal. The do-it-yourself wackiness of the objects might have been lost in an overesthetized setting, but that is no reason to marginalize the work by stuffing it into the vestibule of a library.

Among the highlights here were Ken Friedman’s Fluxusclippings, 1966, boxes filled with things that looked like scales shed by a snake, and Claes Oldenberg’s False Food Selection, 1966, a box of faintly dusty plastic food. Among the serious documents on display were George Maciunas’ U.S.A. Surpasses All The Genocide Records!, 1966, in which the artists statistically compares several great genocides: the Holocaust, the decimation of the Native Americans, the extermination of Cambodians by the Khmer Rouge, the casualties in South Vietnam. Maciunas was able to demonstrate very successfully that moral outrage at atrocity is a politically constructed convenience. His commitment to creating an eventlike phenomenon that would be completely socially engaged cannot help but seem like a somewhat naive strategy. Still, Fluxus was important in that it encouraged artists to take rather extraordinary risks. Shigeko Kubota’s Vagina Painting, made during the “Perpetual Fluxus Festival” in New York on July 4, 1965, involved the artist actually painting with a brush gripped in her vagina. On the other end of the Fluxus spectrum are whimsical, funny works such as Ben Vautier’s Trou Portatif (Portable hole, 1964). This exhibition had plenty of evidence that these artists were serious about having a good time with art.

Catherine Liu