Fluxus was an avant garde art movement that began as an international collective of artists and composers. Although based and conceived in New York City, Fluxus works spanned across Europe and in Japan. The group was mainly active from the 1960s to the 1970s. The founder of the group, George Maciunas, coined the name to mean “flow” and “effluent” and described the wide range of counter-culture activities the group participated in. The group enveloped rebellion against the commercial art market and elitism, with roots in Dada, Futurism, and Surrealism.
The Dada usage of humor in art became a fundamental aspect of Fluxus artwork. The early phase began in New York in 1959 with a group of students who met in the avant-garde composer John Cage’s class studying the topic of experimental composition. The first Fluxus event took place in 1961 at the AG Gallery and was followed by festivals across Europe in 1962. Early Fluxus events were known as Happenings, sometimes as simple as a live gesture in a concert or poetry reading. This movement was intentionally not categorizable.
Lithuanian-American George Maciunas was the volatile leader of this group, expelling artists on a whim and expressing his strong opinions. His goal was to “promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art”. In 1963, Maciunas expelled poet Jackson Mac Low, and the following year Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Nam June Paik were expelled.
From 1964, Maciunas designed and promoted hundreds of Multiples: a range of objects that used a utilitarian philosophy where color and material came second to affordability and available space, echoing Marcel Duchamp’s readymades. This brought coherence to a style that otherwise had no continuity— each artist viewed Fluxus in a different way and expressed their ideals differently. The multiples included tiny books of compositions, films, miniature environments and featured collaborations with artists such as Yoko Ono and Christo.
Many key avant garde artists participated in Fluxus, including Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alice Hutchins, and Robert Watts. Live events, audience participation, and involving the public in artmaking were the primary basis of Fluxus works throughout the 70s. The process of creating was more important than the finished product. Plastic forms of art, such as boxes filled with various items (FluxKits), prints, and films were also created.
Like many of their peers, Nam June Paik and Alison Knowles worked across media. Paik began a movement of art focused on video. Music played an important role in Fluxus and many were inspired by composer John Cage’s charismatic teachings that life and art are interchangeable. This was expressed in his work, where ambient noise (a cough, or someone shuffling in their seat) became a part of the composition. All of the artists involved collaborated with one another while experimenting across styles and mediums.
Fluxus ended abruptly in 1978 with the death of Maciunas. The final artwork was a FluxFuneral, where attendees wore specific colors. The echoes of the movement still exist today, as Fluxus radically changed what art could be. Under the Fluxus manifesto, breath, chewing, hearing, absurdity, and the everyday were elevated to art. Informal, spontaneous pieces were pushed outside of galleries, encouraging younger artists to build on freedom of artistic expression.