A collective of international artists formed in 1960 by the artist George Maciunas. Their name means ‘flowing’ in Latin, and they aimed to break down barriers between art and life by staging avant-garde musical performances and anti-art events which closely involved the public.

Joseph Beuys Green Violin 1974 © DACS 2018.

What was Fluxus?

Fluxus began as an international collective of artists and composers of various nationalities, who worked collaboratively across media. There was a strong base in New York City, with major centres in Germany and Japan. They were a socially motivated group who promoted an inclusive and collective spirit as opposed to what they saw as the functionless art object and the ego driven artist. Although their ideas were complex, they were united by the idea that life can be experienced as art.

The name was defined by Lithuanian / American artist George Maciunas in 1961, derived from the Latin word Fluxus, which means flowing, a reference the ever changing nature of the group and its varying activities. He described the group as ‘the fusion of Spike Jones, vaudeville, gag, children’s games and Duchamp.’ Among the various group members were Joseph Beuys, Nam June Paik, John Cage, Daniel Spoerri and Yoko Ono.

The Origins of Fluxus

Fluxus emerged in the wake of Neo-Dada art in the 1950s. With a focus on political, nonsensical and anti-art ideas, artists looked to the anarchic spirit of Dadaism and Futurism, particularly their provocative performances and events, and to Duchamp’s ‘readymade’ sculptures.

Composer John Cage exerted a particularly strong influence on Fluxism, particularly with his staged performances and happenings. Many of the group’s members were taught by Cage at Black Mountain College or the New School for Social Research in New York, where he taught students that ‘anything goes’. Early Fluxus ideas emerged from a group of Cage’s students at the New School including Al Hansen, Dick Higgins and Jackson Mac Low. Cage also instilled in many of his students an interest in Zen Buddism, particularly its focus on instilling  meaning into every aspect of life, a practice that fed through into many Fluxus projects.

Collaboration and Participation

The work produced by Fluxus was often a socio-political commentary and ridiculed what they saw as art world pretentions, with a focus mainly on performances and organised events rather than commodifiable art objects. Maciunus organised the First Fluxus event in 1961 at the AG Gallery in New York, which was followed by a series of ongoing festivals, concerts and tours, Fluxus newspapers, anthologies, films, food, games, shops, and even Fluxdivorces and Fluxiweddings. Although the artists grouped together for events and collaborations, there were many differing ideas amongst members, sometimes leading to friction within the group.

Many Fluxus events involved audience participation, such as the 1970 Fluxifest Presentation of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, where audience were asked to wear paper masks of Lennon and Ono. Collage artist Ray Johnston pioneered the concept of mail art, sending letters and drawings to artists and celebrities, with the instruction to ‘add and return to Ray Johnston’.

German artist Joseph Beuys was connected to the group in the early 1960s, where he first experimented with ‘action’ performances, often involving sound or music. His Green Violin, 1974, is a replica of a violin played by the Fluxus artist Henning Christiansen during a concert titled ‘Or should we change it’, organised and performed by Beuys and Christiansen at the Stadtisches Museum, Monchengladbach on 27 March 1969.

Legacy

Fluxus gradually came to an end after Maciunas died in 1978, with his Fluxifuneral considered one of the last events to be held. The movement’s anti-establishment stance, and strong focus on collaboration is still felt across contemporary practice today, particularly through Performance Art, Environmental Art and Land Art.

Artists

Joseph Beuys
1921 - 1986

Glossary terms

  • A radical artistic and literary movement that was a reaction against the cultural climate that supported the First World War. The Dadaists took an anti-establishment attitude, questioning art's status and favouring performance and collage over traditional art techniques. Many Dadaists went on to become involved with Surrealism.

  • An Italian literary and artistic movement that began in 1909 led by the writer Filippo Tommasso Marinetti. It rejected the culture of the past and embraced new technology, emphasising speed and dynamism. It used the Cubist techniques of fragmentation and shifting viewpoints to represent these ideals in paint. Futurism also had a political aspect and was closely associated with Italian Fascism.

  • Works in which the actions of the artist constitute the art. Artists have used performance techniques throughout the 20th century but the term is usually applied to works from the 1960s onwards.

  • The creation of environments - installations that surround the viewer and with which the viewer interacts - that emerged in the 1960s with artists such as Allan Kaprow. It is also loosely applied to any art practice addressing environmental concerns and to Land Art.

  • A movement beginning in the 1960s that sought a direct engagement with nature, creating artworks in and with the landscape.