If you’re walking down the Parodos hill in Kaunas, say, after a stroll in the Ąžuolynas (Oak Grove), stop at the house marked with number 1. Take a look - there’s a memorial plate stating that George Maciunas, the founding member of FLUXUS movement, was born here on Novemeber 8th, 1931. Just a couple of hundred meters away there’s the Kaunas Picture Gallery that’s, since 1999, home to the only FLUXUS cabinet in town. That’s a good place to stop, too - and now it’s the time to join us for the celebration of George’s birthday.
One could only wonder what would the 85th birthday of one of the most influential artists of the 20th century would be if he were alive. Sadly, Maciunas died from cancer in Boston in 1978. His ashes were scattered in the Atlantic ocean as that was his wish.
The Maciunas family fled Kaunas in 1944, as quote often did the intelligentsia of that time as artists, scholars and other bright-minded people were usually on top of the forced exile lists compiled by the Soviets. After a few years in Germany, the family settled in the United States - that’s where young George started his art studies. He, together with a friend Almis Šaltis, opened an art gallery in New York in 1960 and it’s considered to be the birthplace of FLUXUS, then a title of a proposed magazine. Later, the title became the name of a community of artists, architects, composers, and designers.
No Smoking. 1963-1975. Instructions by G. Brecht; Graphic designed by G. Maciunas
‘PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART. Promote living art, anti-art, promote NON ART REALITY to be fully grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals’, - this is a quote from the FLUXUS manifesto coined by Maciunas. To put it simply, FLUXUS is not an art style, it is an attitude - and it is supposed to be fun and simple.
The FLUXUS manifesto by George Maciunas
FLUXUS wasn’t, of course, solely the child of Maciunas - the ideas of the intermediary art movement can be traced back to, say, the works of the composer John Cage and dada artist Marcel Duchamp. Nevertheless the term became inherent to many artists of the 60s, including, but not limiting the list to Yoko Ono, George Brecht, Dick Higgins, Joseph Beuys, Vytautas Landsbergis (happening to also be one of the co-founders of the newly independent Lithuania of the 1990s) and Ay-O (by the way you can visit a work by Ay-O in the Kaunas Picture Gallery mentioned above).
John Lennon and Yoko Ono standing in front of Maciunas' USA Surpasses all the Genocide Records!, c.1970.
We must absolutely mention Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-American avant-garde filmmaker, poet and artist. His work was closely related to that of George Maciunas and their ideas have been materialized in joint projects. His film Zefiro Torna, released in 1992, is dedicated to the memory of his dear friend.
A still from Zefiro Torna
The Jonas Mekas Visual Arts Center can be visited in Vilnius; the archives of the center bear works by Maciunas as well. In 2012, the center hosted a Maciunas exhibition called 'He's from Kaunas' in the Fluxus Ministry, a free-spirit artist residency project that was quite succesfully functioning in Vilnius and then in Kaunas.
A song by Takako Saito; exhibited in the FLUXUS cabinet in Kaunas Picture Gallery
Getting back to the memory of Maciunas in Kaunas, we must mention - and are very much looking forward to the fact that - a square of his name will be opened right in front of the house we began our story with. It’s of course a FLUXUS square - at least that’s what obvious from the artist proposal by Naglis Rytis Baltušnikas, because it's actually impossible to get into the square. It was one of the 10 winning works of the Kaunas Accents contest and should be opened some time soon.