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Watch Out! All Is Not What It Seems to Be

At an Archival Workshop at MoMA’s Queens facility in June 2012, Jon Hendricks, MoMA’s Consulting Curator for the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, ruminates on the status and categorization of Fluxus works in the museum.

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Jon hendricks

Jon Hendricks

Consulting Curator, The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection The Museum of Modern Art Jon Hendricks is an artist, Fluxus Consulting Curator of the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection at The Museum of Modern Art, and curator of Yoko Ono exhibitions.... Read more »
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Watch Out! All Is Not What It Seems to Be

At an Archival Workshop at MoMA’s Queens facility in June 2012, Jon Hendricks, MoMA’s Consulting Curator for the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, ruminates on the status and categorization of Fluxus works in the museum.

Show More

At an Archival Workshop at MoMA’s Queens facility in June 2012, Jon Hendricks, MoMA’s Consulting Curator for the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection, ruminates on the status and categorization of Fluxus works in the museum.

I think that we are missing the art for the trees. Throwing things into preconceived categories obscures potential experience of art — understandings of art. “Archival” and “curatorial” might be better thought of as convenient holding bins — locations that can be fluid and shifting as we gain better understanding of artists’ intent, and as we disrobe accumulated prejudgment.

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There is too much value judgment in cultural institutions, where medium is given weight — resulting in departments, which have served over the years as types of straightjackets: stuff not fitting into the “medium” brackets is shoved off to the “archive” or “library,” automatically delegating it to a “non-art” status. There were problems with this from the beginning, not just in the way things were treated (rubber-stamping Futurist manifestos, for instance) but also where and how things got presented to the public — generally in display cases, frequently overlapping items in casual ways. Archival materials were rarely presented matted or framed. In fact, recently, performance photographs, scores, and posters that I had gone to considerable effort and expense to mat and frame in order to present them to the public as works, which I think they are, were unframed and presented in much more casual groupings in new frames or frameless. The result, I suspect, was that the public viewed these materials differently.

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Even in the “event” there is a presumption that all is seen, heard, felt. But this is not true.

The audience sees only fragments. Each brings his/her own pre-experience or knowledge to the “event.”

The “author”/performers don’t see the “play” — they are in it — so they, too, only see fragments.

The camera sees subjective bits, usually chosen by the photographer — frequently we later “see” the performance only through the photograph, an unspoken social contract.

The photograph becomes an inseparable part of the work/piece — and should be treated as part of the art. The score is a conceptual artwork.

A letter might be a letter, it might be a piece (see some by Carl Andre, Sol LeWitt, Yoko Ono, etc.). A letter might be a score (see George Maciunas re: Paik’s One for Violin, etc., Benjamin Patterson’s Paper Piece). A letter might be an action (see Tomas Schmidt’s Carbon Paper and Paper Inside, Ben Vautier’s Postman’s Choice, Ray Johnson’s “add to it and send it on,” or GAAG’s chain letter to free Angela Davis, for the NYCLU Judson Three Art Benefit [the winner got to start the chain].) Or a letter might just be a letter — information conveyed in writing that sheds light on something, but that is not the something.

Artists can be tricky and deceptive — watch out! It’s not all what it seems to be. Going forward, let’s not be caught in the trap of the past.

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