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Indepth Arts News:

"Fluxus Games Exhibition Mixes Hijinks and High Art"
2001-06-16 until 2001-12-31
North Adams, MA, USA United States of America

How would you play chess on a backgammon board or use a deck of 52 jokers or win a bicycle race in which the goal is to be the last one across the finish lineNULL In the 1970's, Fluxus artists created games that subverted the seriousness of high art and encouraged participants to celebrate everyday occurrences rather than static art objects. This summer and fall MASS MoCA will present an important exhibition of more than 70 Fluxus games and artifacts from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Foundation, Detroit, one of the three most important and extensive collections of Fluxus objects in the world.

Created in 1961 by the artist George Maciunas, the term Fluxus was originally intended as the title of a magazine that would document new art. Fluxus, a word chosen by Maciunas for its connotation of change, became a loose association of artists, some of whom were making work that the original Fluxus publication meant to document. Fluxus drew upon a combination of sources that included Dada, Duchamp's readymades, Surrealism, Futurism, Spike Jones, and the music of John Cage to counter the belief that the experience of art was superior to that of life.

Games became an important means for Fluxus artists to disseminate and explore their ideas about art. Because games lend themselves to humor, often require physical participation, and undermine the seriousness of art that certain Fluxus artists opposed, they were a perfect medium for Fluxus expression and experimentation.

More intimate Fluxus games took the form of boxes containing scores, or instructions for playing the games, altered decks of cards, and manipulated chess sets, to name just a few. Almost all Fluxus games were published as Fluxus editions by George Maciunas. He offered the editions for sale at his Fluxshop on Canal Street in New York City or at Fluxfests, which were Fluxus performances that occurred in Europe and the United States. The editions, including the games, were purposely inexpensive again setting themselves apart from the high prices that are associated with fine art. The boxed games, for example, were priced around $5, and the chess sets averaged $40.

Occasionally Fluxus games were played as events, or Fluxfests, and only the equipment, props, or posters for the games remain. One such Fluxfest, held at Douglass College in New Brunswick, New Jersey, in February 1970, included soccer played on stilts, a javelin event that substituted a balloon for a javelin, and table tennis played with paddles with holes in the center or corrugated metal cans glued onto the paddle.

On the surface, Fluxus games seem simple enough. The components of the games and the instructions for playing are pared down, direct, and unembellished. The appearance of simplicity, however, collapses once we attempt to play the games. Most Fluxus games were not straightforward. In fact, many of the games were not even possible to complete with the given instructions presenting roadblocks and built-in absurdities.

Despite their sense of play, humor, and diversion, ultimately games are about rules. A deck of jokers makes for a good laugh, but it would be impossible to play most card games with such a deck. It would be just as difficult and strange to play chess on a backgammon board. If one did, the game would be neither chess nor backgammon; but rather a new hybrid. In order to play cards with a deck of jokers or play chess on a backgammon table, the rules must change. The inability to play some of the Fluxus games implies more than a simple gag. Fluxus games comment on the rules of art making, buying, selling, and canonizing; the Fluxus game transforming itself into an extended critique of art itself.

Fluxus Games at MASS MoCA, which opens on June 16 and will be on view through December 2001, compliments MASS MoCA's major exhibition Game Show, which features 30 artist-designed obstacle courses, word games, puzzles, and video games by some of the most important artists working today. On June 16, MASS MoCA will open an additional concurrent exhibition of work by Öyvind Fahlström.

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