Many artists consider themselves to be scientists of beauty, using precise structure and methods to find the perfect balance, symmetry and chroma of their pieces. However, artists of the Fluxus movement from the 1960s leave these conventions by the wayside, instead choosing to construct an artistic method that relies completely on chance, simplicity and fun. Coined by artist George Maciunas — from the Latin word “flux,” meaning in motion with constant change — Fluxus was a challenge to artists to bring together all aspects of the arts including choreography, music, theatrical performances and visual art.
Composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham were among the first founders of Fluxus, and it is their work, the work of their contemporaries and followers that bring this era-expounding exhibit to life. A strong linear theme manifests itself in much of the artwork behind widely varied media, from color photo etching to spit bite and sugar lift aquatint to arrangements of everyday objects. Many of the pieces in this particular exhibit are bestowed by the estate of ellsworth snyder — non-capitalization intentional — another Fluxus artist whose own work is also in the gallery. A friend and colleague of Cage, snyder wrote a doctoral dissertation of the style and times of Cage’s life for UW-Madison, the first ever written about the experimental artist.
For those who have seen the gallery just upstairs, “Robert Rauschenberg’s America,” which opened last month, there is one piece that will be all too familiar. It turns out that Rauschenberg had a hand in the Fluxus scene, and thus “Cage and Cunningham: Chance, Time and Concept in the Visual Arts” contains one of his works as well. The placard flanking the piece informs viewers that during the Fluxus years it was not unusual to see the trio of Cage, Cunningham and Rauschenberg working together on a project, as “Cunningham choreographed the dances, Cage composed the music, and Rauschenberg designed the theatrical sets.”
While smaller than other galleries within MMoCA, the exhibit is not short on creativity by any means — something that one would expect from artists who created their own style of artistry.
An inspirational piece by Stan Shellabarger demonstrates an inspired artistic method using wood, paint and boots. The artist painted over a length of boards with multiple layers of brightly colored paints and then walked across the boards over and over again until the layers of paint wore off at each end, revealing the unique hues beneath. Shellabarger completed the piece by leaving behind his well-used boots at one end of the work. MMoCA cleverly highlights how the process of creating this piece is the real work of art by posting framed professional photos next to the work depicting Shellabarger walking over the boards. The title of one of Cage’s own works also invokes a distinct sense of the spontaneity of the movement, meshing the word decor with the name of transcendentalist poet Thoreau to entitle “D?reau.”
Fluxus was a way for artists such as Yoko Ono, Dick Higgins and Ay-O to polarize established artistic practices and the alternative way they pictured art. What better place to appreciate the motives of these visionaries than within the innovative glass walls of MMoCA.