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Maya Stendhal
545 West 20th Street, 212-366-1549
May 7 - July 25, 2009
Reception: Thursday, May 7, 6 - 8 PM
Web Site

The concept of Do It Yourself began as a philosophy related to the American Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th and early 20th century in which a search for an authentic, meaningful style was carried out as a reaction to the “soulless” aesthetic that developed out of the Industrial Revolution. A DIY subculture soon followed, explicitly critiquing modern consumer culture while encouraging people to take technologies and civic responsibilities into their own hands to solve needs. The exhibition examines how the Fluxus movement of the 1960s applied the DIY philosophy to practice, establishing an interdisciplinary, anti-art approach directed towards bridging the gap between artist community and society. First coined by its charismatic “Chairman” George Maciunas in 1961, Fluxus described a movement with origins in Futurist Theater, silent film, Zen, comedy, Vaudeville, and Dada. The movement aimed to interrupt the rigidly hierarchal, formalist conventions of postwar art and the burgeoning commodity culture of the 1960s. Critical to Fluxus’ DIY objective was a reconstruction of the arts from a context of consumer culture and passive reception to an active culture of engagement. Artists collectively viewed themselves as social catalysts carrying out communal projects that pioneered the exploration of artistic collaboration, ‘intermedia,’ sexual politics, and racial diversity. Fluxus influenced conceptual art, performance art, political art, mail art, minimalism, artists’ books, new music, and mass-produced art. Often viewed as humorous, thrifty, ephemeral, and spontaneous, the featured works reveal a deeper set of utopian ideals in which attributes of Efficiency, Economy, Form and Function could stimulate social change. On view will be works on paper, film, posters, diagrams, maps, charts, and documents by artists George Maciunas, Jonas Mekas, George Brecht, Ben Vautier, Yoko Ono, Paul Sharits, Henry Flynt, Shigeko Kubota, Ken Friedman, Chieko Shiomi, La Monte Young, and Paula Scher.

George Maciunas’ anarchic flair attracted like minds who infused Fluxus with intelligence and wit. Influenced by the ready-made sounds of avant-garde composer John Cage, ready-made objects of Marcel Duchamp, and ready-made actions and gestures of Ben Vautier and George Brecht, Fluxus advocated a ‘concrete art’ derived from daily life. Emphasis shifted from what an artist makes to the artist’s personality, actions, opinions, and theories. A progressive artist/theorist, inventor, and cultural entrepreneur, Maciunas rigorously instilled these views in his graphic work for Fluxus, and visionary architectural projects Prefabricated Building System and Fluxhouse Cooperatives in downtown SoHo, New York. Trained in graphic design and architecture at Cooper Union School of Art, he contributed to the work of many artists in the exhibition with his text and image based designs. He developed a branded identity for Fluxus, defining its copyright, trademark, logos, letterheads, name cards, envelopes, posters, and three-dimensional announcements and displays. Unveiled for the first time will be a never fully realized graphic project by Maciunas. The works are based on medieval illustrations and etchings of cruelty and torture, also on view, revealing his conceptual process.

Fluxus’ international, interdisciplinary currents reached Japanese born artist Yoko Ono whose conceptual work found inspiration in the teachings of John Cage and Zen. Ono first met Maciunas in 1959 and they formed a creative relationship. They carried out numerous collaborations that continued through her relationship with John Lennon, ending with Maciunas’ untimely passing in 1978. On view for the first time will be Ono’s Grapefruit (1963-64), an ambitious 150-piece collection of instructions, scores, and poems typed by the artist on postcard with handwritten notes. Ono composed the pieces between 1952 and 1964, and compiled them into her masterwork between 1962 and 1964 when she was living in Japan. Considered an important part of Fluxus history, the work came from the same source that all Fluxus scoring activity did – the New York scene between 1959-61 that included Cage, La Monte Young, and George Brecht. The pieces are all individually framed and span an amazing 70 3?4×247 3?4 inches hung as a group on the gallery wall, allowing viewers to grasp the sheer magnitude of the project. On one particular card, Ono denotes that the collection is divided into categories of instructions for Painting, Poetry, Music, Event, and Object. Her work posits a major shift from the traditional role of the artist – these Zen-like meditative texts are meant to be performed, and remain incomplete until an outside person (or persons) participates. A milestone in the evolution of conceptual art and performance art, Grapefruit was first published as a book in 1964 and is the best-known and most widely distributed publication in this genre. Also featured is Do It Yourself Fluxfest (1966), a 20-piece collection conjoining short instructional texts by Ono with Maciunas’ graphic illustrations. First printed in “3 newspaper events for the price of $1,” the No. 7, February 1966 issue of the Fluxus magazine cc V TRE, the compilation underscores the Fluxus idea that anyone can make art. These amusing pieces find meaning in the humorous dialogue that exists between Ono’s instructions and Maciunas’ skillful treatment of text with relation to pictorial motifs.

On exhibit for the first time in its entirety is a rare and extensive work entitled European and Siberian Art of Migrations (1955-60), consisting of 39 individual pieces that Maciunas created while studying at New York University. He produced a large collection of similar charts, diagrams, and atlases between 1956 and 1975, in which he scientifically compiled incredible amounts of information into geo-historical representations. Parallels are made between space and time and their dissolution into succession, establishing an orderly system that integrates historical and geographical knowledge. Maciunas’ system made clear not only political, economic, poetic, and aesthetic relationships, but also predetermined the geo-historical framework of Fluxus. By 1969, he had developed his theory of the “learning machine.” A criticism of the linear narratives of books, lectures, and traditional forms of learning, Maciunas’ theory called for improvements in methods of transmitting information and learning.

A 60 piece collection of George Brecht’s groundbreaking “event scores” (c. 1960s) will be on view. Designed by Maciunas, these minimal works consist of words and short instructional phrases printed in black ink type on small white card stock. Influenced by the theories of John Cage, Brecht conceived of his “event scores” as an extension of music culminating in a multi-sensory experience that was open, generative, and undefined, rejecting any possibility of “authorship.” Mediating between language and performance, they are realized in the “readymade” actions of everyday situations, emphasizing the unity of art and life. Maciunas regarded Brecht’s work for its inclusive, antihierarchal, and accessible attributes viewing it as the archetype of Fluxus performance.

Important to the history of Fluxus is An Anthology (1961-1963), a rare book that will be part of the show’s archival presentation. A pre-Fluxus publication designed and edited by Maciunas and conceived by La Monte Young, it contains works by artists who would later become a core part of the movement. Maciunas produced it using his IBM Executive Typewriter with the sans serif font that characterized his Fluxus typography.

Jonas Mekas, an artist, programmer, archivist, fundraiser, theoretician, and all around proselytizer for the moving image, will premiere his new interactive online project One Thousand and One Nights (2009). Following his monumental 365 Day Project, Mekas will release new short films through his website Inspired by the classic folk tale from the Middle East, he invites filmmakers from all over the world to share their stories by uploading footage from multimedia devices to his website. Mekas states of his new cinematic venture, “I will be dealing with each night as it comes…. I want to incorporate into my Nights, stories by other storytellers from all over the world.”

The exhibition will also feature Maciunas’ Name Tags (1964-68), playful interpretations of artists’ names including Emmett Williams, Diter Rot, Benjamin Patterson, and Barbara Moore expressed in Fluxus’ signature typography and design. Also on view will be Shigeko Kubota’s Flux Napkins (1965) and Chieko Shiomi’s Spatial Poem no. 2: A Flux Atlas (1968), Fluxus graphic projects produced in collaboration with Maciunas. Screening through out the gallery is a selection of films from Fluxfilm Anthology featuring Paul Sharits’ Word Movie (1966), Sears Catalogue 1-3, Dots 1&3, Wrist Trick, and Unrolling Event and Ben Vautier’s Jen e vois rien Je n’entends rien Jen e dis rien (1966), La traverse du port de Nice á la nage (1963), Fair un effort (1969), Regardez moi cela suffit (1962). Henry Flynt’s pamphlet Communists Must Give Revolutionary Leadership in Culture (1965) makes a systematic evaluation of the political and social implications of contemporary design and its effects on culture spanning areas such as architecture, music, cars, and film. Also featured will be a rarely exhibited selection of works on paper by Paula Scher, an artist who has wholly extended her role to the political and social spheres – she designed the “O” banner in support of the 2008 presidential campaign, and is an active member of the Art Commission of the City of New York. D.I.Y. will be accompanied with an original essay by Fluxus artist and scholar Ken Friedman.

D.I.Y. marks the 31st anniversary of George Maciunas’ passing. The exhibition has been organized and produced by Harry Stendhal.
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