Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism looks at the American avant-garde during the Cold War period, focusing on the interrelated questions of performance practices, cultural resistance, and the politics of criticism and scholarship in the U.S. counterculture. It develops three case studies: the Living Theatre's influential production of Jack Gelber's The Connection, which subverted the historical and political assumptions of the War on Drugs, utilized cutting-edge jazz both formally and thematically, and inspired a generation of artists and activists to rethink the nature of community and communication; the earliest American performance art, namely the Happenings and Fluxus events, which responded in astounding ways to the avaricious movements of Cold War capitalism; and the Black Arts Movement, which brought about practical and theoretical innovations that effectively evade the conceptual categories of Euro-American philosophy and historiography.
Mike Sell's study is groundbreaking in its consideration of the avant-garde in relationship to a crucial but rarely considered agent: the scholar and critic. The book examines the role of the scholar and critic in the cultural struggles of radical artists and activists and reveals how avant-garde performance identifies the very limits of critical consideration. The book also explores the popularization of the avant-garde: how formerly subversive art is eventually discovered by the mass media, is gobbled up by the marketplace, and eventually finds its way onto the syllabi of college and university courses. Avant-Garde Performance and the Limits of Criticism is a timely and significant book that will become a standard reference for scholars in the fields of avant-garde literary criticism, theater history, critical theory, and performance studies.
"A provocative exploration of relations between the historical avant-garde and Cold War vanguard art and theatre. Sell's compelling historical and cultural narrative shows how the connections between the two exist at a very deep level of radical politics and aesthetics--an amazing concoction of rigorous scholarship, interdisciplinary learning, and progressive theorizing."
--Michael Vanden Heuvel, University of Wisconsin, Madison
"One of the most sophisticated, engaged, and engaging studies of the avant-garde in the United States that I've read-an important study that will raise the bar not only on scholarship of the Black Arts Movement, but on U.S. avant-gardism generally."
--James Smethurst, University of Massachusetts
A volume in the series Theater: Theory/Text/Performance. A list of recent titles in the series appears at the front of this volume.
Felt provides a nonlinear look at the engagement of the postwar avant-garde with Eastern spirituality, a context in which the German artist Joseph Beuys appears as an uneasy shaman. Centered on a highly publicized yet famously inconclusive 1982 meeting between Beuys and the Dalai Lama, arranged by the Dutch artist Louwrien Wijers, Chris Thompson explores the interconnections among Beuys, the Fluxus movement, and Eastern philosophy and spiritual practice.
Building from the resonance of felt, the fabric, in both Tibetan culture and in Beuys’s art, Thompson takes as his point of departure Deleuze and Guattari’s discussion in A Thousand Plateaus of felt as smooth space that is “in principle infinite, open, and unlimited in every direction,” its structure determined by chance as opposed to the planned, woven nature of most fabrics. Felt is thus seen as an alternative to the model of the network: felt’s anarchic form is not reducible to the regularity of the net, grid, or mesh, and the more it is pulled, tweaked, torn, and agitated, the greater its structural integrity.
Felt thus invents its methodology from the material that represents its object of inquiry and from this advances a reading of the avant-garde. At the same time, Thompson demonstrates that it is sometimes the failures of thought, the disappointing meetings, even the untimely deaths that open portals through which life flows into art and allows new conjunctions of life, art, and thought. Thompson explores both the well-known engagement of Fluxus artists with Eastern spirituality and the more elusive nature of Beuys’s own late interest in Tibetan culture, arriving at a sense of how such noncausal interactions—interhuman intrigue—create culture and shape contemporary art history.
Fluxus—from the Latin, meaning “to flow”—was a radical, international network of artists, composers, and designers in the 1960s and 1970s noted for blurring the boundaries between what we term “art” and what makes up everyday life. Following the work of American Fluxus founder George Maciunus, Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life presents a variety of objects that express the Fluxus mission, while empowering readers to challenge the presumptions we bring to the concept and practice of art making.
Based on a large-scale traveling exhibition first organized at Dartmouth College’s Hood Museum of Art, this book chronicles the movement in the form of an art self-help book, playfully providing answers to fourteen key questions such as “Art—what is it good for?” and “What am I?” via Fluxus works. Featuring over eighty color and black-and-white illustrations, accompanied by essays from curator Jacquelynn Baas, Fluxus scholars Hannah Higgins and Jacob Proctor, and Fluxus artist Ken Friedman, this book will make an original contribution to our understanding of this provocative moment in modern art.
“PURGE the world of dead art, imitation, artificial art. . . . Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples,” writes artist George Maciunas in his Fluxus manifesto of 1963. Reacting against an elitist art world enthralled by modernist aesthetics, Fluxus encouraged playfulness, chance, irreverence, and viewer participation. The diverse collective—including George Brecht, Robert Filliou, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, George Maciunas, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Benjamin Patterson, Takako Saito, Mieko Shiomi, Ben Vautier, and Robert Watts—embraced humble objects and everyday gestures as critical means of finding freedom and excitement beyond traditional forms of art-making.
While today the Fluxus collective is recognized for its radical neo-avant-garde works of performance, publishing, and relational art and its experimental, interdisciplinary approach, it was not taken seriously in its own time. With Fluxus Forms, Natilee Harren captures the magnetic energy of Fluxus activities and collaborations that emerged at the intersections of art, music, performance, and literature. The book offers insight into the nature of art in the 1960s as it traces the international development of the collective’s unique intermedia works—including event scores and Fluxbox multiples—that irreversibly expanded the boundaries of contemporary art.