In a history full of -isms and manifesto-spouting collectives, few major entities in the art world are as hard to nail down as Fluxus. Was it a movement, theory or a collective whose members didn’t always want to wear its name? Was it just a branding exercise? After nine years of research, Jeffrey Perkins finds that Fluxus was, above all, George Maciunas — an entrepreneurial Lithuanian emigrant who coined the name near the dawn of the ’60s and spent the rest of his life decreeing what was and wasn’t in Flux. Quite enjoyable even if it leaves viewers hardly feeling they understand the enigmatic man at its heart, George will play well to lovers of esoteric art and should have continuing appeal on video.
The film starts stylishly, with split screens and superimpositions evoking the anarchic, mix-and-match spirit of the art Maciunas would later promote. He was born in 1931 to a loving family, with an “unusual delicate connection” to his dance-loving mother and an early affinity for planning: He constructed double-decker houses out of snow, and was a fanatic for toy soldiers he could make do his bidding.
After his family moved to New York to escape the Russians, Maciunas studied music, architecture and design; privately, he began creating vast family-tree-like charts with which he tried to organize all of art history’s many styles and impulses. He also met Anthology Film Archive founder Jonas Mekas in his early days, and the alt-film icon offers some of the doc’s most revealing observations.
Perkins sees how Maciunas applied that taxonomic impulse to the unruly art world springing up around him. Yoko Ono and La Monte Young were hosting edgy concerts downtown; John Cage was freaking the music world out in classes at the New School; artist George Brecht was starting to use chance happenings and think of instructions as artworks. Working with peers in a variety of formats — from starting his own gallery to designing publications and helping produce concerts — Maciunas arrived at his notion of Fluxus as a descendant of the (still much more famous, but also confounding) European Dada movement. According to his sister, it was all a joke; but it was a joke he stuck with until he died.
George Jeffrey Perkins doc pays tribute to the man who invented the hard to define fluxus,