by Natilee Harren. University of Chicago Press, March 2020. 304 p. ill. ISBN 9780226354927 (h/c), $50.00.
Reviewed September 2020
Deborah Ultan, Arts & Architecture Librarian, University of Minnesota, firstname.lastname@example.org
“Fluxus began with a drip.” And so commences art historian Natilee Harren’s enlightening book Fluxus Forms: Scores, Multiples, and the Eternal Network, published by University of Chicago Press, 2020. Richly researched and academically grounded, Harren fluidly weaves together the stories of artists and events key to the evolution of Fluxus, using graphic notation of music and the representation of space and time as a starting point.
The skillfully constructed narrative is buttressed by dense writing and critical art theory, providing a scholarly context for locating Fluxus, internationally, chronologically, and historically. Referencing the work of significant artists before and as Fluxus emerged such as Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Jackson Pollock, Yves Klein, and Robert Motherwell, to name a few, guides Harren’s thesis on how the grid and the drip, metaphorically and literally transformed thinking about art from a formalist perspective.
At the thrust of the discussion is the departure from artistic practices lauded during the 1950s and 1960s to ideas of temporality and intimacy, and the various aesthetic Fluxus forms that emerged — from John Cage’s pedagogy and scores where the instrument was played as an object or the performance of silence to George Brecht’s “Drip Music” to the hydrokinetic-osmotic paintings by George Maciunas, the Waterdrop Paintings of Yoko Ono to performative objects like the Fluxkits. On the one hand, Harren elucidates how the conceptual frame of abstract painting resonated with Fluxus thinking about chance, process, movement and gesture, and yet, how it otherwise diverged in a new favoring of direct encounters, human bodies, real space and the everyday object.
The book design mimics a few key characteristics of Fluxus with a nod to the innovative typography typical of Fluxus printed matter and a salute to the musical score. Black and white images and color plates of Fluxus objects, events, artists, graphic scores and installations are interspersed throughout the book and appropriately complement the text with especial thanks to several artist estates, and two institutional greats, the Museum of Modern Art and the Getty Research Institute Library. The last fifty pages are dedicated to the details of Harren’s scholarship including her notes, bibliography, and index. The quarto-sized book with preservation-quality coated paper offers a pleasant reading experience besides being an outstanding addition to the literature on Fluxus that offers new context and fresh insight on the foundations of art performance and object-based practices.