One of the things that art is good for is thinking about life.
This is the impetus behind Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life, an exhibition of more than 100 works by major artists, including George Maciunas, Yoko Ono and Nam June Paik, which is on view at the U-M Museum of Art through May 20. It is designed for visitors to experience the radical and influential cultural development that was Fluxus, and perhaps learn something about themselves along the way.
Fluxus was an international network of artists, composers and designers that emerged as an art or anti-art phenomenon in the early 1960s, known for blurring the boundaries between art and life. Maciunas (1931–1978), the Lithuanian-born organizer of the international Fluxus movement, reacted against the “high art” world and its commodification of art objects. He saw art as part of the social process and attempted to create objects that celebrated collaboration, the ephemeral and the everyday—with a touch of playful anarchy.
“The Fluxus phenomenon helps us re-examine our perspectives on art objects and on the issues in our own lives. It’s exciting to bring the energy and breadth of the Fluxus show to Ann Arbor, and we hope that visitors will engage with the exhibition and the events that surround it in fun and meaningful ways,” says UMMA Director Joseph Rosa.
The exhibit takes Maciunas’s approach as a touchstone. It explores how Fluxus works, and encourages visitor interpretation and response. The exhibition playfully supplies answers to 14 themes framed as questions, such as “What Am I?” “Happiness?” “Health?” “Freedom?” and “Danger?”
Fluxus artists seem to agree that happiness is something we make for ourselves, not the result of something that happens to us. Regarding change, the artists conclude that going with change can be a lot more fun than trying to fight it. The essential function of Fluxus artworks is to help viewers practice life; to learn to perform as an ever-changing self in an ever-changing world — and that a sense of humor helps.
Programs organized in conjunction with the exhibition include a public lecture by exhibition guest curator Jacquelynn Baas at 4 p.m. March 11, and an evening of Fluxus performances featuring Fluxus originator Ben Patterson and History of Art Associate Professor David T. Doris at 7:30 p.m. March 14. A program at 8 p.m. March 30 presents “In Memoriam… Kit Carson” (1963), a non-linear opera by ONCE founder Robert Ashley presented by the Digital Music Ensemble; and the premiere of DME Director and School of Music, Theatre & Dance Professor Stephen Rush’s “U.S. Grant,” a short opera about Ulysses S. Grant, rich with electronics and Civil War songs.
UMMA educators are working with faculty and students, and with Arts at Michigan and the Student Programming and Advisory Council, to create other Fluxus happenings. These will culminate in a Fluxus-themed event March 30 that will offer students access to the museum after hours and will include Fluxus performances, music and more.
This exhibition was organized by the Hood Museum of Art and is supported by Constance and Walter Burke, Dartmouth College Class of 1944, the Marie-Louise and Samuel R. Rosenthal Fund, and the Ray Winfield Smith 1918 Fund. UMMA’s installation is sponsored by the U-M Health System, the Office of the Provost, and the CEW Frances and Sydney Lewis Visiting Leaders Fund.
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