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 George Maciunas  (1931 - 1978)

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Lived/Active: New York/Massachusetts / Lithuania      Known for: avant-gard visual art-fluxus, happenings

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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
George Maciunas was born 8 November 1931 in Kaunas, Lithuania, and died 9 May 1978 in Boston, Massachusetts.  He was a founding member of Fluxus*, an international community of artists, architects, composers, and designers. He is most famous for organizing and performing early happenings and for assembling a series of highly influential artists' multiples.

After fleeing Lithuania to avoid being arrested by the advancing Russian Army in 1944, and living briefly in Bad Nauheim, Frankfurt, Germany, he and his family emigrated to the USA in 1948, living in a middle class area of Long Island, New York.

After arriving in the USA, George initially studied graphic design at Cooper Union*, moving to architecture at the Carnegie Institute of Technology in Pittsburgh and finally art history at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts. This began a fascination with the history of art for the rest of his life, and whilst there he began his first art-history chart, measuring 6 by 12 foot, a "time/space chart categorizing all past styles, movements, schools, artists etc." between 1955 and 1960. Whilst this project remained unfinished, he would publish three versions of a history of the Avant-Garde*. The first appeared in 1966, with Fluxus as the focal point. He also began a correspondence with Raoul Hausmann, an original member of Berlin Dada, who advised him to stop using the term 'neo-dada' and concentrate instead on 'fluxus' to describe the nascent movement.

Though Maciunas conceived of the name "Fluxus" for a publication covering Lithuanian Culture conceived of during a meeting of Lithuanian émigrés, Fluxus soon developed into much more. Fluxus became an avant-garde movement characterized by playful subversion of previous art traditions (even including those of previous avant-garde movements. 

In 1963, Maciunas composed the first Fluxus Manifesto, (see above), which called upon its readers to:
"...purge the world of bourgeois sickness, ‘intellectual’, professional & commercialized culture ... PROMOTE A REVOLUTIONARY FLOOD AND TIDE IN ART, ... promote NON ART REALITY to be grasped by all peoples, not only critics, dilettantes and professionals ... FUSE the cadres of cultural, social & political revolutionaries into united front & action."

In 1960, whilst attending composition classes of the electronic composer Richard Maxfield at the New School for Social Research* in New York, Maciunas met many of the future participants of Fluxus, including La Monte Young, Al Hansen, Allan Kaprow, & Jackson Mac Low.  In 1961 he opened the AG Gallery at 925 Madison Avenue with fellow Lithuanian Almus Salcius, intending to finance the gallery's ambitious programme of events and exhibitions by importing delicatessen foods and rare musical instruments. The gallery, though short-lived (it closed on July 30 due to lack of funds), was devoted to new and groundbreaking art across genres and held exhibits and performances by many of his new acquaintances.

To avoid debt collectors, Maciunas took a job as a civilian graphic designer at a U.S. Air Force base in Wiesbaden, Germany in late 1961. It was there that he organized the first Fluxus Festival in September 1962. This festival featured various "concerts," scripted actions performed by Fluxus artists, as well as interpreting a number of works by other members of the international avant-garde.

After his contract with the US Air Force was terminated due to chronic illness, Maciunas was forced to return to New York, September 1963. He began to work as a graphic artist at the New York studio of graphic designer Jack Marshad. He established the official Fluxus Headquarters and proceeded to make Fluxus into a sort of multinational corporation replete with "a complex amalgam of Fluxus Products from the FluxShop and the Flux Mail-Order Catalogue and Warehouse, Fluxus copyright protection, a collective newspaper, a Flux Housing Cooperative and frequently revised lists of incorporated Fluxus "workers".

The shop, like all his business ventures, was notoriously unsuccessful, however.

Whilst Maciunas was still alive, no fluxus work was ever signed or numbered, and many weren't even credited to any artist. As such, huge confusion continues to surround many key fluxus works.

In 1966, Maciunas began buying several loft buildings from closing manufacturing companies in SoHo, with financial support from J. M. Kaplan Foundation and the National Foundation for the Arts. Maciunas envisioned the buildings as Fluxhouse cooperatives, collective living environments composed of artists working in many different mediums. By converting tumbledown buildings into lofts and living space, Maciunas pioneered Soho as a haven for artists. The renovation and occupancies violated the M-I zoning laws that designated Soho as a non-residential area, however, and when Kaplan left the project to embark on his own artist cooperative buildings in Greenwich Village, Maciunas was left with little support against the law. Maciunas continued the co-op despite contravening planning laws. Maciunas bought a series of loft buildings and made them into co-operatives, selling the lofts to artists as working and living spaces. He sold lofts for only a few thousand dollars, and hired artists to do the (sometimes shoddy) carpentry, electrical and plumbing work necessary to make them livable.

Although it was illegal to sell the units publicly without first filing a full-disclosure prospectus with the New York State Attorney General, Maciunas never bothered with prospectus requirements. And although he made no attempt to enrich himself, his style was rather that of a con man, and he made a lot of his buyers angry with him because of the low-quality conversion work. More than a few artists felt he had duped them into buying their lofts, even though they had literally bought them at cost. Those "duped" artists' lofts came to be worth hundreds of thousands of dollars as SoHo developed, and eventually even millions. There began a series of increasingly bizarre run-ins with the Attorney General of New York. Although the AG's legal efforts were relatively mild, Maciunas acted as if he were public enemy #1, wearing disguises and going out only at night. Strategies included sending postcards from around the world via associates and friends to persuade the authorities that he was abroad, and placing razor-sharp guillotine blades onto his front door to avoid unwanted visitors. The Fluxhouse cooperatives are often cited as playing a major role in regenerating and gentrifying SoHo.

An argument with an electrician over unpaid bills resulted in a severe beating, allegedly by 'Mafia thugs', November 8, 1975, which left him with 4 broken ribs, a deflated lung, 36 stitches in his head and blind in one eye. He left New York shortly after, to attempt to start a Fluxus-oriented arts centre in a dilapidated mansion and stud farm in New Marlborough, Massachusetts.

Perpetually sick, Maciunas developed cancer of the pancreas and liver in 1977. He died on May 9 of the following year in a hospital in Boston. Three months before his death, he married his friend and companion, the poet Billie Hutching. After a legal wedding in Lee, Massachusetts, the couple performed a "Fluxwedding" in a friend's loft in SoHo, February 25, 1978. The bride and groom traded clothing.


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