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Fluxus-danto

Fluxus-danto

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Published by Kovalev Andrey

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Published by: Kovalev Andrey on Oct 09, 2010
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12/26/2012

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30
Nation.
29,
1999
duced to transient quarters in a hotel and indesperate straits, he wrote to Furst, “I findit hard enough to read a book, even in Ital-ian..
.
I
don’t even know where to keepthe books. There’s no room for them in thehotel and at the office they’re stolen. WhenI go home, if you can call it that, I have tobe a nurse, not reader.”Thus the celebrated poet entreated theobscure Americasi to rescue
him,
and Furst,fluent in French and German as well asEnglish and Italian, agreed to grind outreviews of authors as radically differentas Joyce Cary and Ivy Compton-Burnett,Julien Green and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Healso produced critical evaluations in Ital-ian of Oscar Wilde and George BernardShaw. In fact, Furst was
so
learned Mon-tale had to caution him to tone it down anotch or
two.
“Don’t display too muchknowledge of English and American lit-erature,” Montale wrote him. “You shouldshow an average knowledge which couldbe attributed to me.”Although Montale paid Furst for hisefforts, he never publicly acknowledged
him,
never granted
him
the recognition hatmight have made
his
“negro” a full citizenin the republic of letters. What’s worse,Montale appears to have been two-timingFurst. As it was in
his
romantic life,
so
itwas in his literary life; he just couldn’t re-mainmonogamous. He had a second ghost-writer, a woman, who translated English-language books into Italian and let Montalesign
his
name to them.he
Collected
contains an essayon “Reading Montale,” but it does notmention the contretemps that erupteda decade ago when the novelist and
T
ilmmaker Mario Soldati, friend to bothMontale and Furst, published a book de-tailing their relationship. In his volumeof reminiscences, (“BarrenBranches”), Soldati excoriatedMontale forhis failure to credit Furst. At the same time,
I1
of Milan published severalletters from Montale to Furst that corrobo-rated the story and divided opinion in Ital-ian arts and letters. Marco Vallora noted inthat both Alexandre Dumasand Luigi Pirandello had followedsimilar ghostwriting practices; Albert0Moravia wrote
in
Corriere della
that‘‘it is difficult to justifl Montale’s conduct,whatever the circumstances in which hefound himself.”Many might object that this debate isan inconsequential sidebar. But nobodyappears to have seriously researched thesubject by following up journalistic reve-lations a decade old.
In
a detailed chronol-
ogy,
Galassi notes that Montale often aver-aged a hundred articles annually, a flabber-gasting number for a deadline-phobicpoet.It wouldn’t simply be interesting, t wouldbe intellectually responsible to determineexactly how much of Montale’s prose Furstproduced.Moreover, publication of Galassi’slandmark volume of translations invitesa reassessment of Montale’s own transla-tions. Surely anyone who translated Shake-speare, Yeats, Eliot and Faulkner deservesclose reading. How good was Montale’swork? How,good and how much was ac-tually his ghostwriter’s work?Even assuming that Montale wroteevery word of every poem published inhis name; scholars should do a textualanalysis and set this issue to rest. Whydon’t the worker bees in what RichardHoward refers to as the “academic cottageindustry” of Montale criticism comparethe great man’s verse with the poetry ofhis obscure friend?
1
Correspondance
School
Art
ARTHUR C. DANTO
f we think
of
a historical period as defined by what the French have usefullydesignated a mentaliti-a shared set
of
attitudes, practices’and beliefs-thenperiods end when one mentaliti’givesway to another. Something like this hap-
I
ened
in
1962, when Abstract Expressionism came to an end-not necessarily
becausethe movement was internally ex-hausted but because a new artistic
talit6
was in place. And thesetend to rewrite he history of art in their
own
image.
So
Marcel Duchamp and John Cage,who would at best have been marginal tothe Modernist aesthetic to which AbstractExpressionism subscribed,became the gen-erative figures of the new period. Picasso,who had cast
so
daunting a shadow overModernist artistic practice, was now es-teemed primarily for having invented col-lage.
Not
everyone, of course, crossed theboundary into the new at once.There were many in the art world-artistsas well as critics-who continued to framethe meaning of art in terms of thein which they had grown up. They were in,one might say, but not
of
the new period.It is possible that the new artistic mentalitywas but part of a larger one-that of thesixties. If that is true, then the transform-ing forces hat explain he uprisings of 1968must already have been operative in artis-tic precincts in the early years of the decade.Although 1968 s often explained with ref-erence to a revulsion against the VietnamWar, this reverses the direction of causal-ity: That revulsion is explained by the new(What explains theitself?
I
have no idea!)The new surfaced in
1962,
when the artistic practices of a loosely struc-tured group of American, European andJapanese artists began to be referred to asFluxus. The name was invented by GeorgeMaciunas, the prophet if not the founderof the movement, and it expressed a dis-satisfaction with the kind of compartmen-talization of artistic endeavors made ex-plicit
in
the writings of Clement Greenberg.Under Modernist imperatives, Greenbergclaimed in a famous essay, each mediummust aspire to a pure state of itself, ex-punging any borrowings from other media.Fluxus works, by exuberant contrast, dis-regarded the borderlines between music,writing, theater and the visual arts,
so
thatevery work
of
Fluxus art was in principlea kind of And the ideaof artistic purity was not the only erst-while value demoted by Fluxus. Its
art
wasephemeral and irreverent, often trivial andtypically took the form of a joke.What Maciunas designated proto-Fluxus works were createdin he late fifties,when Abstract Expressionism was at itspeak,
so
the
art
existed before its practition-
.
ers were conscious of themselves as form-ing a movement. The two co-existed for some years. The difference inattitude and practice, however, would havemade it difficult o imagine that the conceptof art was wide and elastic enough to ac-commodate the characteristic expressionsof them both. The paradigm Abstract Ex-pressionist work would be a large, heroiccanvas aflirming the agony
of
creation andthe tragic view of life, such
as
Bamett New-man’s painting
 
29,1999
Nation.
31
(195
l}.
A not untypical Fluxwork would beRobert Watts’s (circa1966}, displaying apatch of silk-screenedpubic hair and worn by performers in aFluxconcert irrespective of gender. The sit-uation more or less resembled a marvelousscene in Richard Strauss’s
auf
Naxos,
in which .the tragic heroine sharesan island with commedia dell’artebuffoonswho
try
o snap her out of her grief by mak-
ing
faces and performing cartwheels.Fluxus objects raised in an acute waywhat Abstract Expressionism took forgranted-the philosophical question of thenature of
art.
Duchamp had raised this ques-tion through his ready-mades, which is whyhe was counted a proto-Fluxus master. AndCage brought to Fluxus a certain Zen dis-regard for sharp boundaries. Ben Vautier,a Swiss who joined the movement in 1962,declared that is
art
and begansigning whatever came to hand. (Warhol,too, once said he would sign anything.}Zen, in the form in which the deeply in-fluential Dr. Suzuki expounded it, saw
no
distinction between sacred objects-like a statue of Buddha-and anythingelse. The avant-garde of 1962 was accord-ingly driven by concerns that could noteasily be translated back into the prob-lems of Modernism, in part because theformalism that had come to define Mod-ernist aesthetics had no application o, say,luxus was defined less by a style ofobject than by a sense ofperformance.Fluxus objects were more or less propsfor art as a system of performances,rather than focuses
of
aesthetic con-templation.
I
was once shown a roomfulof Fluxworks, acquired from a collectorby the Getty Research Institute in LosAngeles. What they had in common wasmainly the fact that they would not havebeen seen as even in candidacy for thestatus of art before 1962, and the fact that
it
was almost mpossible o understand whatthey were about without art-historicalref-erence to the actions to which they testi-fied. One can get a good idea of such anaggregate from an illustration inkind of ofthe Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxuscollection in Detroit-which shows a workof 1965 by Willem de Ridder, called
Euro-
1965.
Valises and toyboxes-and a hair-brush-are piled up together with books,journals and posters, with
FLUXUS
printedon them. The critic Robert Pincus-Wittenwrites that while “the lion’s share of Fluxuswork’assumes he form of transient pieces
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“A
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Nation.
29,1999
YOUR
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of paper-handbills and broadsides orboxed thematic accumulations,”
Fluxus is an
art
ammed chock-a-blockwith minute containers ofall shapes andsizes, little wooden and plastic boxesfound in the “for sale” streetside cartonsof the Canal Street supply houses-cor-rugated cardboard, mailing tubes, scrapsof paper, plastic indecencies from thelocal joke or tourist shop, miniaturizedPop gewgaws of prepossessing verisi-militude--cucumbers, fried eggs-ball-bearing puzzles that tax manual skill,articulated plastic and wooden take-apartpuzzles and games, meaningless gadgetsdisplaced from household and hobbyistneeds, the tiny paraphemalia of the homeworkshop and playroom.
They are the leavings-behind of an art thatdid not
so
much make these objects as ends’in themselves but use them as a means ofcommunicationwith otheP artists who par-ticipated in the Fluxusay Johnson’s work, now on view atthe Whitney Museum of American
Art
(ui~tilMarch 21), has somewhat he lookof a Fluxshop’s inventory, arrayed indisplay cases and consisting of post-cards, letters, collages, drawings, enclo-sures and attachments, and envelopes, toand from what Johnson described in 1969as “several hundred New York Corre-spondance School International artist andwriter ‘members.’
The deliberatespelling “correspondance” is characteris-tic of the ludic spirit of The New York Cor-respondance School, understood, in Fluxusterms, as a verb rather
than
a noun-as away of interacting rather than the meansby which interaction is achieved. And theidea of a “New York CorrespondanceSchool” may have been a jokey transformof “New York School,” the term coinedby Robert Motherwell as a label for thosewho did what Greenberg-hating “actionpainting” as a term-simply called “NewYork-style painting.”
If
The New YorkCorrespondance School was not itself aFluxus work, it expressed the spirit ofFluxus, whose membership, like the net-work of New York Correspondance, wasin constant, well, flux. Johnson may havebeen a Fluxus alumnus, like so manyartists who participated in its eccentricmanifestations-Joseph Beuys and NamJune Paik, for example; Yoko Ono (and,through her, John Lennon), Claes Old-enburg, Allen Kaprow (the inventor ofHappenings) and Christo, all of whoseworks are grounded
on
Fluxus premises.The movement had no pope, the way Sur-realism had Breton, empowered to saywho was’orwas not a member.
So
artistscame and went.Most :of the Correspondance Schoolmembers are fairly obscure (as were, forthat matter, most members of Fluxus). Theartist John Willenbecher identified forme the exceedingly obscure Jeter Stalcup,“which only a few initiates might knowwas the name of someone Bill Wilson’smother, May, found in
an
early computer-generated dating service shortly before shemoved to New York in her
70s.”
The letters,oRen ornamented by simple drawings or bystick-ons, usually instructed the recipientto perform some fairly simple action. TheCorrespondance School was a networkof individualswho were axtists by virtue ofplaying the game. Some of them were whatWillenbecher erms “initiates” by virtue ofsharing-or at least appreciating-John-son’s sense of humor: a readiness to re-spond to a certain kind of joke or pun, vi-sual or verbal; to take
trivial
things as monu-mentally important; and
to
profess a fan’sdedication to certain borderline celebritieslike Anna May Wong or Ernie Bushmiller,who drew the comic strip
Nancy.
ne of the activities of the Correspon-dance,School consisted in calling meet-ings of fan clubs.
In
one of the displaycases there is a flier,
on
cheap red paper,announcing an Anna May Wong clubmeeting at the New York Cultural Center,to take place on June
3
of the year it wassent, from
1
o
3
PM.
On
it Johnson drewa number of cartoon bunny heads, lookingmuch alike but, in deference o Anna MayWong herself, all with slanted eyes. Thebunny head was Johnson’s logo, and sincethe bunny heads on the flier all look alike,the implication of a common isgraphically conveyed. The heads desig-nated the putative members of the fanclub-fifty-two by my count.
I
think of itas a kind of class picture of the school’smore faithful members.
I
know-or knowof-perhaps eighteen.
I
suppose hat whatone did at such a club meeting was to com-pare Anna May Wong’s roles with oneanother. Or is it possible that no one turnedup at the center, and the meeting consistedin just its
own
announcement?
I
expect that every letter Johnson eversent was part of the New York Corre-spondance School archive, but the char-acteristic communicationwould have beenaddressed-in all senses
of
the word-toan individual who could be counted
on
toperform the simple task the letter enjoined(which sometimes consisted n sending theletter on>to omeone else) or to connectthe dots in such a way as to reveal the oke.Sometimes the letter is generic, implying,

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