As the 12-Month Fluxus Collection Intern in the Department of Drawings and Prints, I received a research grant to travel to Germany and survey a number of Fluxus-related exhibitions, some of which celebrated the movement’s 50th anniversary, as well as the 80th birthday of Fluxus artist Yoko Ono. Read more
Are you intrigued by artists’ multiples? Engaged by innovative typography? Do you want to learn more about the roots of Conceptual and performative art today, and how artists’ innovation influences curatorial practice?
If so, then I am pleased to inform you that after several years, and more than a few surprises, the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Archives are open for research. Scholars will use the archives to study the history of Fluxus and its related artists. But while you might never use the archives, my work as an archivist still has an impact on your experience of Fluxus art at the Museum. The decisions made by myself and the other members of the Fluxus team affect what goes into the galleries, and how those objects are presented to the public.
When Fluxus collectors Gilbert and Lila Silverman donated their vast collection to MoMA in 2008, we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. Before it expanded into performance, Fluxus was founded as an international publishing company by George Maciunas. Games, printed materials, and other multiples by various artists were united by Maciunas’s unique design sensibility and brilliant typography. This amazing collection—the world’s largest—had been carefully built for decades by Fluxus scholar Jon Hendricks, who aimed to present a complete history of Fluxus: not just artworks, but documentation and books as well. MoMA decided to split the Silverman Collection into three parts: works of art to the Department of Prints and Illustrated Books, for their facility at handling editions; documentation to the Museum Archives; and publications to the Library.
For the past two years, I’ve been the archivist responsible for processing the collection’s many wonderful manuscripts, notes, letters, and countless other documents into an organized research collection. That day has finally arrived—but getting here has been a long, strange journey.
Fluxus thwarts all attempts at categorization. How can one distinguish “artwork” from “document,” when Fluxus artists actively strove to break down the border between art and life? How can we exhibit a work of performance art, when all that remains of it is a few photographs and written accounts? These are the sorts of documentary objects that researchers expect to find in archives, but as curators seek to display ephemeral and other dematerialized artworks, they are increasingly included in art exhibitions.
Such quandaries are essential to understanding Fluxus. But they are particularly troublesome for an institution like MoMA, which is accustomed to maintaining separate departments for different types of objects. It’s no secret that MoMA didn’t collect many Fluxus works in the 1960s and 1970s, at the time of their creation, which means that the Silverman Collection fills a very significant gap. But in processing the archives, I came to understand our forebears’ reluctance: Fluxus is too fluid, too rebellious, too anti-institutional to enter an institution without a fight. It’s too many things at once.
That’s why myself and the other members of the Fluxus team quickly realized that we’d have to take a cue from Fluxus itself, and learn to be a little more fluid ourselves. We understood that sometimes artifacts need to be considered artworks, and other times works of art function like documents. It means that serious Fluxus researchers may need appointments with all three departments. But it also means that researching Fluxus will be as much of an adventure as processing it was.
To learn more about Fluxus, the Silverman Collection, or its processing, check out the finding aid online.
The Silverman Fluxus Archives can be consulted by appointment at the MoMA Archives reading room at MoMA QNS; open Mondays, 11:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Appointments can be made through the Archives contact form.
Exhibiting Fluxus: Decomposition Contained in Wait Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth
The title of the exhibition Wait Later This Will Be Nothing: Editions by Dieter Roth befits a number of the works on display that are slowly decomposing in front of spectators’ eyes. This post is dedicated to one particular pocket-sized perishable—Roth’s Pocket Room (Taschenzimmer) from MoMA’s Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection. In 1968, Dieter Roth—who challenged the boundaries of printmaking and publishing by integrating cheese, fruit, sausage, chocolate, and other organic materials into the process—released an unlimited edition comprising a banana slice on stamped paper tucked inside of a plastic container small enough to fit into the owner’s pocket. Read more
Fluxus currents flow throughout the exhibition Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, not only in the graphic scores discussed in my last blog post, but also in a section devoted to the experimental art collective Hi Red Center. Read more
This past January computer programmer, web designer, and sculptor Cory Arcangel participated in the exhibition “Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions, 1962–78,” by creating his own arrangement of a Fluxkit, the signature compilation of objects created by many Fluxus artists held in a black suitcase. Read more
A postage stamp is a small, government-issued square of paper adhered to mail in order to enable its circulation. An artist’s stamp, in the simplest of terms, is an object that is related to a postage stamp in either its form or content, but which does not necessarily help deliver a letter. Read more
Last month, artist William Pope.L spent a day at MoMA, exploring the collections of artists’ multiples on view in Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions, 1962–1978. While he was here, he produced the above performance video, which incorporates the Fluxkit to incredibly humorous effect. Read more
There was a hint of prank and play in the air at The Museum of Modern Art on November 1. Had you been walking in the Museum’s Marron Atrium that day, you may have gotten caught in a flurry of white cards descending from above. Read more
The opening of Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions, 1962-1978 did not end on the evening of September 21, 2011. As part of the exhibition (on display in The Paul J Sachs Prints and Illustrated Books Galleries through January 16, 2012), six artists have been invited to participate in the exhibition’s organization by “unpacking” and arranging two Fluxkits—the signature compilation of objects by many Fluxus artists stored in black suitcases assembled by George Maciunas, a central organizer and participant. At different points throughout the run of the show, new artists will pull from the kits’ bounty—from posters to lentil beans—and have a hand in the making of this ever-evolving exhibition.
Of the line-up, which includes Alison Knowles, Dora Maurer, Anna Ostoya, Cory Arcangel, and William Pope.L, the first to put the kit to task is one who knows its form well: Mieko Shiomi. The Japanese-born composer and visual artist spent the early years of her career challenging her training as a classical musician. Exploring new possibilities of sound and composition, Shiomi famously made music with instruments’ unused parts. After rubbing shoulders with Tokyo-based artists who had spent time abroad in the early 1960s, including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, and Toshi Ichiyanagi, Shiomi left her native Japan, and joined the growing contingent of Fluxus artists in New York. Of the works that Shiomi created while working with Maciunas in New York, three (Endless Box, Events and Games, and Water Music) are components of the kits on display.
Although Shiomi’s stay with the Fluxus community in New York was short-lived, she has always overcome the limitations of her locality by embracing the mail service as a means for collaboration and artistic production. True to her ways, Shiomi sent the plans for her current arrangement for the Fluxkit to us from her home in Osaka via the U.S. postal service. Upon unfolding the long, scroll-like plan, my colleagues and I stood in admiration at the painstaking effort she put into the placement of each work. Shiomi’s masterful arrangement fills the cases entirely, and is ordered according to a system of grid-lines that distinguish each artist’s work from the next, while embedding them in a myriad of constellatory relations. While Shiomi certainly did not empty the Fluxkit suitcase entirely (and thus did prioritize certain works over others), the lyrical arrangement of the kit’s contents appears non-hierarchical—making one wonder what, in particular, Shiomi’s discerning hand adds to our understanding of the works before us.
If meaning does not pop out blatantly before our eyes we may need to linger, look, and listen a little differently. We may even need to follow the artist’s lead. The instruction card shown on the right—from Shiomi’s Events and Games, which is on display in the kit—may shed some light on her approach to arranging the kit.
If nothing else, perhaps what we may glean from Shiomi’s display is the particular rhythm of its form—the way she peered upon the “puddle” of papers, cans, and cards. Like the event itself, Shiomi’s process concerns looking both intently and with multiple perspectives.
This is the first post in the new series Off the Shelf, which explores unique MoMA publications from the Museum Archives.
During our intern walkthrough of the exhibition Staging Action: Performance in Photography since 1960, we learned about Yoko Ono and George Maciunas‘s Fluxus Wallpaper, which is displayed along the third-floor hallway at the entrance to Staging Action and Pictures by Women: A History of Modern Photography. Read more