Fluxus is an international avant-garde collective or network of artists and composers founded in the1960s but still continuing today

Joseph Beuys, 'working title: BEUYS (FLUXUS) & CHRISTIANSEN (FLUXUS)' 1969
Joseph Beuys
working title: BEUYS (FLUXUS) & CHRISTIANSEN (FLUXUS) 1969
Poster on paper
© DACS, 2009

Introduction

Founded in 1960 by the Lithuanian/American artist George Maciunas, Fluxus began as a small but international network of artists and composers who challenged accepted ideas about what art is. It characterised itself as a shared attitude rather than a movement. Rooted in experimental music, it was named after a magazine which featured the work of musicians and artists centred around avant-garde composer John Cage.

Fluxus had no single unifying style. Its artists used a range of media and processes adopting a ‘do-it-yourself’ attitude to creative activity, often staging random performances and using whatever materials were at hand to mkake art. Seeing themselves as an alternative to academic art and music, Fluxus was a democratic form of creativity open to anyone. Collaborations were encouraged between artists and across artforms, and also with the audience or spectator. It valued simplicity and anti-commercialism, with chance and accident playing a big part in the creation of works, and humour also being an important element.

The first Fluxus event was staged in 1961 at the AG Gallery in New York and was followed by festivals in Europe in 1962. The major centres of Fluxus activity were New York, Germany and Japan.

Almost every avant-garde artist of the time took part in Fluxus, including Joseph Beuys, Dick Higgins, Alice Hutchins, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Ben Vautier, Robert Watts, Benjamin Patterson and Emmett Williams.

Explore Fluxus actions and performances in these fascinating photographs from Tate’s Archive:

1 of 7
  • George Maciunas' piano piece for Nam June Paik no. 10, Tate Archive
    George Maciunas' piano piece for Nam June Paik no. 10, performed by Dick Higgins (painting piano with whitewash)
  • George Maciunas performing own carpenter piano piece, Tate Archive
    George Maciunas performing own carpenter piano piece (nailing down each key)
  • Ben Vautier performing Robert Watts' 2 Inches, Tate Archive
    Ben Vautier performing Robert Watts' 2 Inches, stretching slowly a 2" ribbon across street and then letting automobiles break it
  • Photo taken during Shigeko Kubota's Vagina Painting event, Tate Archive
    Photo taken during Shigeko Kubota's Vagina Painting event
  • George Brecht's Octet for Winds, Tate Archive image
    George Brecht's Octet for Winds – Fluxorchestra realisation rehearsal
  • Takenhisa Kosugi's Anima no. 1, performed by Alison Knowles, Tate Archive
    Takenhisa Kosugi's Anima no. 1, performed by Alison Knowles
  • Ben Vautier performing La Monte Young, 1961, Tate Archive
    Ben Vautier performing La Monte Young, 1961

Inspiration and influence

The Latin word Fluxus means flowing, in English a flux is a flowing out. Fluxus founder Maciunas said that the purpose of Fluxus was to ‘promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art’. This has strong echoes of dada, an early twentieth century art movement which aimed to destroy traditional values in art and create a new art to replace the old.

Fluxus played an important role in opening up the definitions of what art can be. It has profoundly influenced the nature of art production since the 1960s, which has seen a diverse range of art forms and approaches existing and flourishing side-by-side. (See for example conceptual art, performance art, film & video art and postmodernism).

Fluxus artists in focus: Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys

Nam June Paik: Father of video and media art

Curator of the 2011 Nam June Paik exhibition at Tate Liverpool provides an introduction to the importance and influence of the artist’s work:

Nam June Paik was born in Seoul in 1932 but his family fled to Japan during the Korean War where Paik studied music and aesthetics at the University of Tokyo. His passion for experimental music led him to Germany, at that time a centre for avant-garde music and there he worked closely with Karlheinz Stockhausen. He also met John Cage whose ideas on music and performance further inspired him to experiment with everyday sounds in his compositions.

Tateshots: Nam June Paik
Watch as Nam June Paik’s nephew Ken Hakuta provides some fascinating personal glimpses into the life and art of his unconventional uncle…

Audio Arts: Volume 9 No 4
This interview with Nam June Paik was recorded in London during his exhibition Video Works 1963–88, at the Hayward Gallery, late in 1988. In it he discusses some of the important influences on his work and life.

John Lennon Yoko Ono Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe at the Galeria Bonino New York 23 November 1971
John Lennon, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe at the Galeria Bonino, New York, 23 November 1971

When the future was now
Discover more about Nam June Paik’s remarkable work in this Tate Etc. article about the early decades of his life.

Nam June Paik: Room Guide
Explore the online guide to Tate Liverpool’s 2011 exhibition for a more detailed look at Nam June Paik’s ideas, work and influences.

Joseph Beuys: Mythmaker and visionary

Joseph Beuys was a sculptor, creator of action-performances, political leader and teacher. In line with the democratic spirit of Fluxus he extended the definition of art, suggesting that ‘everyone is an artist’. He also believed that art had the power to shape a better society and developed the idea of social sculpture as the ultimate, universal work of art, which he claimed could play a creative, participatory role in society and politics.

Watch fascinating archival film clips of Joesph Beuys performing lectures at Tate and the Whitechapel gallery:

The legacy of a myth maker
This Tate Etc. article explores Beuys’s influence, looking at how contemporary artists have both borrowed from and developed his approach.

Joseph Beuys: Actions, Vitrines, Environments
Discover more about Beuys’s life and art in this online guide to the major 2005 Beuys exhibition at Tate Modern.

For Joseph Beuys the day of his death
This poem was written by artist Rebecca Horn in tribute to Joseph Beuys

Katie Guggenheim Recordings – Joseph Beuys
Listen to Beuys’s powerful visionary ideas come to life in this audio restaging of interviews with the artist, which used published interviews as scripts.

In context

Claes Oldenburg, 'Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London' 1966
Claes Oldenburg
Lipsticks in Piccadilly Circus, London 1966
Mixed media on board
unconfirmed: 254 x 203 mm
Presented by Hannah Wilke 1972© Claes Oldenburg

Performance Art 101: The Swinging Sixties, Pop, film, and Fluxus
Find out what was happening in the 1960s in fashion, music and art and discover how it was the perfect environment for the founding and development of Fluxus.

Unlock Art: Frank Skinner on performance art
Discover how the ideas and performances of Flux artists such as Yoko Ono, George Macunias, Joseph Beuys and Nam June Paik are an important part of the history and development of performance art more generally.

Other perspectives

Is the spirit of Fluxus still relevant in the twenty-first century? Watch these videos to find out how Fluxus-inspired ideas were re-born at Tate Modern…

Performance: The Flux Olympiad
Fluxus founder, artist George Maciunas, first conceived of the Flux Olympiad in the 1960s, but it wasn’t until 2008, that his idea was acted upon and a Flux Olympiad was staged at Tate Modern. Watch this video to find out whether Fluxus ideas still have relevance from the perspective of the twenty-first century.

Performance: Make a Salad
American artist Alison Knowles first made a salad in the name of art at London’s ICA Gallery in 1962. ‘Make a Salad’ is what the Flux artists termed an ‘event score’: a written instruction that can be acted out and changed according to the context in which it is performed. In Tate Modern’s giant Turbine Hall, Knowles has given the work a mammoth new dimension.

In detail

Joseph Beuys, 'For Siberian Symphony' 1962
Joseph Beuys
For Siberian Symphony 1962
Braunkreuz oil and watercolour on paper
© DACS, 2009

Joseph Beuys at Tate (exerpts) 1972
For an intense fix of Joseph Beuys watch this video documentation of his visit to what was then the Tate Gallery (now Tate Britain) in 1972.

Audio Arts: Volume 13 No. 2 & 3
Listen to this interview with Flux artist Yoko Ono discussing her installation at the Venice Bienale in 1993.

More Fluxus: External resources you may find helpful

Fluxus Portal
A useful resource for researchers which pulls together online texts and projects, and a list of publications for further reading.

Media Art Net
Find out more about media art and the important role Fluxus artist Nam June Paik played in its development.

Related glossary terms

Performance art, installation art, video art, new media, social sculpture, dada, conceptual art, postmodernism, Hi-Red Centre, art intervention