Dhe Fluxus was born in September 1962 with the smashing of a grand piano in the Wiesbaden Museum is not really art-historically reliable. The American composer John Cage and his student George Maciunas had already done preliminary work in New York at the end of the 1950s. When Maciunas and some comrades-in-arms, including Ben Patterson and Nam June Paik, violently dismantled such an instrument into its individual parts at the “International Festival of Newest Music” in the Hessian state capital, the irritated spectators still experienced an iconic moment. No one could now deny that the international movement had also arrived in Germany.
This is something people in Wiesbaden are proud of and therefore commemorate this event every decade. “Here the music plays” is the title of the central exhibition celebrating the sixtieth anniversary. There are good reasons why it is on view at the Nassauischer Kunstverein (NKV), where one can also look back on the one hundred and seventy-fifth anniversary of the date of its founding. Not only was the NKV at home in the museum, which is also the location of the historical events, until the house passed from municipal to state ownership in 1972. Ben Patterson, who lived in Wiesbaden until his death in 2016, also set up a shrine-like bar under the roof of the Gründerzeit villa, where the NKV is now based, and will remain there permanently. Last but not least, since 2008 the NKV has been supporting young artists who carry the Fluxus idea into the present with the “Follow Fluxus” grant.
Fluxists from the very beginning
The title of the exhibition suggests that the avant-garde art movement of the time was rooted in music and that its founders were musicians who drew attention to themselves with performances, happenings and experimental concerts, whose fleeting, flowing nature gave Fluxus its name. “Here Plays the Music” gives a voice to the women who are decisive for the trend and thus anticipates the art summer 2023, which will bring together the works of young female artists influenced by Fluxus. That gives reason to expect the contemporaneity to which an art association is normally committed.
Meanwhile, the show in the NKV is essentially based on the Wiesbaden Big Bang of 1962. So you literally cannot avoid the most important prop at the time: seven concert grands and uprights from the collection of the Berlin Archivio Conz occupy the first floor almost completely and in this way give new meaning to the term piano nobile. Fluxists from the very beginning did not destroy the instruments, but rather, mostly in the 1980s, transformed them into imaginative sculptures that often looked like living beings. Esther Ferrer, for example, plays with the homonym and has given a concert grand piano the wings of a bird, Carolee Schneemann has brought another specimen into a vertical position and made the front cover into an image carrier by sawing out a falling figure from it. Ann Noël, on the other hand, interprets the front of her “piano” as a face sticking out its tongue at the viewer, while Takako Saito’s version almost disappears under clouds of cellophane.
Interactive art displays
Mary Bauermeister is one of the pioneers of yesteryear. In the cabinet dedicated to her, she shows three objects that, despite their panel painting format, correspond more closely to ephemeral Fluxus art than to the concrete work character of the pianos: a small-scale collage, an abstract relief that looks like notation transported to the third dimension, and one with Color gradient laid with pebbles in all shades of brown, which could not be airbrushed more beautifully.
Under the roof, which can now be reached in an elevator, are the poetic instructions from Yoko Ono’s Grapefruit Book, published in 1961, presented in a series, while Bettina Büttner represents the (but) next generation: the former professor at the Mainz Academy shows the video installation 2014’s “Piano Destructions.” In it, she juxtaposes images of men destroying pianos and women playing classical keyboards in a not-so-subtle comment on gender issues. You can also find out what the call for old nightstands was for in the NKV a few months ago. Fifty of these pieces of furniture are now filled with objects, documents and other memorabilia, each of which is reminiscent of a Fluxus artist. In this way, they become interactive art displays whose aesthetics leave a similarly nostalgic impression as the tour of the exhibition.
This is where the Musik Nassauischer Kunstverein, Wilhelmstraße 15, Wiesbaden, plays until October 30th