19 Feb 2018 || New York Times
It’s appropriate that “George,” a documentary about George Maciunas (1931-1978), the Lithuanian-born artist who devised the manifestofor the movement known as Fluxus, should be, like that group itself, playful, prankish and a little hard to pin down. A running joke in the film imagines an interviewer asking Mr. Maciunas what “flux” is, and never quite managing to get a definition.
Reviewing an exhibition on the occasion of the manifesto’s 50th anniversary, Holland Cotter, writing in The New York Times, described Fluxus as a “giant nebula of international collective activity” that was “anti-capitalist, anti-elitist, pro-community and pro-play.” Jonas Mekas, a friend of Mr. Maciunas’s who made his own film about him, says Mr. Maciunas was trying to bring a sense of lightness to art.
The director of “George,” Jeffrey Perkins, an artist who is described in his own biography as a Fluxus associate, emphasizes the contradictions of the enigmatic ringleader.
Was Mr. Maciunas a significant artist himself or more of an organizer? Was Fluxus an original idea or did it simply seize on a post-Dada spirit that was already fueling conceptual and performance art across the globe in the 1960s?
Fluxus may have been a way for the domineering Mr. Maciunas, an admirer of military history, to try to conquer and monopolize the avant-garde — though at times he had some difficulty bending artists to his will. And the Fluxus philosophy had democratic and even utopian underpinnings.
Mr. Perkins livens up what could have been a dull talking-heads presentation with vortex-like editing, often dividing the screen into multiple panels and making inventive use of sound design. There is no shortage of vintage Fluxus footage or arcana to draw on; the interviews, old and new, with Maciunas associates like Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik and Henry Flynt are informative and often fascinatingly contradictory.
Although Mr. Maciunas’s art work and performances have had some lasting influence — Sonic Youth performed a rendition of a piece in which a piano is destroyed — “George” leaves the impression that one enduring legacy may also be in real estate.
He brought together colleagues to purchase property south of Houston Street, founding what has been reported as the first artist cooperative there. The experimental playwright Richard Foreman is blunt: “As far as I’m concerned, he created SoHo,” he says.
At two hours, the documentary is overstuffed, possibly by design. But it matches a kaleidoscopic form to a kaleidoscopic life story, honoring its subject without simplifying him.