George Maciunas and the Fluxus archive – excerpts from an interview with John Held, Jr.

Fluxus mail-art by Ruud Janssen (Breda, Netherlands)

John Held, Jr. is and has been for decades a huge presence in the mail-art network. Recently, he organized an exhibition in San Francisco, California, USA honouring the life and work of Shozo Shimamoto:

While searching for information on the exhibition, we came across a fascinating interview that provides background on John Held, Jr. We certainly learned some things we did not know previously about this important mail-artist and archivist. In particular, a section of the interview provides relatively unknown information about the last years of Fluxus founder George Maciunas; the existence of a Fluxus museum in Massachusetts, USA; and an indication of the depth of the involvement of the “old” Fluxus in the network.

The interview with John Held, Jr. was conducted by Liz Glass and Patricia Maloney. The complete version appears on the AP (Art Practical) blog.

Ray Johnson is universally named “The Father of Mail-art.” Johnson’s art and sensibilities are closely aligned with Fluxus, even if he never officially became a part of Maciunas’s group. George Maciunas did officially endorse mail-art as an accepted practice, launching a tradition that remains remarkably intact in the mail-art network today.

Here some excerpts of John Held Jr.’s commentary:

“At the same time [middle 1970s when he first met Ray Johnson at Hamilton College in New York], I met Jean Brown, who became a mentor to me. She had a collection of dadaist and surrealist ephemera and went on to collect Fluxus art. She lived in a Shaker seed house in Tyringham, Massachusetts, which was about two hours away from me in upstate New York, so I used to visit her once a month for a period of three or four years.”

“[Jean Brown] started her collection with her husband Leonard in the early ’50s, when nobody was paying attention to dadaist and surrealist ephemera. They couldn’t afford the paintings, so they collected the posters, magazines, correspondence, and the photographs. It was an incredible collection. After Leonard died, she was taken to a Fluxus performance in New York, and she became known as the den mother of Fluxus. George Maciunas, who was the impresario of Fluxus and was headquartered in New York, was a huge presence in her collection. She supported a lot of those artists. She didn’t have a big income. Leonard was an insurance guy, so she did have some money and she put it all into this art collection.”

It was a study collection. People from all over the world were making pilgrimages to the Shaker seed house, which Maciunas transformed into an archive. All of the drawers were built into the walls, with little knobs and a big Shaker table down the middle of the room where she had Fluxus boxes and that type of thing out.”

“A lot of people came to see the collection, including Yoko Ono and John Lennon. It was a very important study collection of Fluxus and the biggest in the country at the time. You could just rummage through these drawers. It was like an amazing smorgasbord of postwar avant-garde art.”

“[Jean Brown] picked up on mail art really early and supported a lot of mail-art projects. One in particular was called the Mohammed Center for Restricted Communication, started by a Turkish artist, Plinio Mesculium, in Milan, Italy. You would do something on a sheet of his letterhead and send it back to him with a list of twelve names and addresses. Then he would color-Xerox it, which was rare at that time, and send out twelve copies to the twelve people you indicated. It was a way to get in touch with all those art-world people in a very mysterious way. I was sending things to Nam June Paik and the Fluxus people.”

Read the entire interview with John Held, Jr. conducted by Liz Glass and Patricia Maloney:

Also see “A Conversation with Ray Johnson and John Held Jr.”:

Many networkers have created alternative archives, exhibition and performance spaces. Jean Brown’s collection is an early and fascinating example of a practice we hope will continue.


1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: George Maciunas and the Fluxus archive « onovox

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