The Hood Museum of Art is home to the George Maciunas Memorial Collection, established upon Maciunas’s death in 1978 to honor the Lithuanian-born founder of the international movement Fluxus. This radical and influential cultural phenomenon emerged in the early 1960s as part of a global cultural impulse to blur the boundaries between art and life. The George Maciunas Memorial Collection, which grew to just over five hundred objects over the span of a decade, remained more or less shelved for twenty years, until founding Hood director Jacquelynn Baas suggested that the museum organize a traveling exhibition and publication focused upon it. Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life was on view at the Hood Museum of Art from April 16 to August 7, 2011, then traveled to the Grey Art Gallery at New York University from September 9 through December 3. It is currently on view at the University of Michigan Museum of Art through May 20.
The renewed interest in and scholarship on the collection has revitalized its pedagogical use at Dartmouth College and has led to the first significant purchase in recent years, Black and White Piece. This series of ten photographs by Hollis Melton (born 1944) commemorates a performance presented as part of a cabaret in celebration of George and Billie Maciunas’s FluxWedding on February 25, 1978. In it, they exchanged clothing, and the photographs follow the transformation of groom to bride and bride to groom, unveiling the intimacy and symbolism of their relationship. This, Maciunas’s last public performance before his death from inoperable cancer just months later, carries the poignancy of his final days, and Melton’s one-of-a-kind accordion-style album is signed by the artist and was acquired by the museum from Billie Maciunas. The museum will make the work available for study to faculty and students in the disciplines of, among others, art history, studio art, women’s and gender studies, philosophy, history, film and media studies, and theater.
In an email to Juliette Bianco, the Hood’s Assistant Director, Billie Maciunas reflected on this first Flux event she had ever participated in: “It was black and white for symbolic reasons for George, not least of which is that he was colorblind. The clothes were basically cheap things we picked up at the Salvation Army. Since George was a transvestite, he collected a lot of shabby elegant women’s clothing this way. The dress I wore, and which at the end of the piece George wore, was just such an item that came from the Salvation Army, along with the cheap fake pearls.”
Black and White Piece is a rare document of a Fluxus event and example of the interaction between performance and photography. It also records one of Maciunas’s most autobiographical works and is an important addition to the museum’s Fluxus collection.
- Shadowplay: Transgressive Photography from the Hood Museum of Art
- Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life