In the summer of 1958 Allan Kaprow, Robert Watts and George Brecht, the latter a scientist and the former art instructors, completed a grant proposal titled "Project in Multiple Dimensions." This proposal was ultimately unsuccessful in their desire to establish an institute for experimental art on the New Brunswick campus of Rutgers University. However, in their introduction they summarize what they perceived to be the characteristic features of the New American "advance guard."
In all the arts, we are struck by a general loosening of forms which in the past were relatively closed, strict, and objective, to ones which are more personal, free, random, and open, often suggesting in their seemingly casual formats an endless changefulness and boundlessness. In music, it has led to the use of what was once considered noise; in painting and sculpture, to materials that belong to industry and the wastebasket; in dance, to movements which are not “graceful” but which come from human action nevertheless. There is taking place a gradual widening of the scope of the imagination, and creative people are encompassing in their work what has never before been considered art.1
This theme of the expanding boundaries of artistic activity to include materials and activities that were previously viewed as lying outside of the realm of the arts, was intimately linked to this generation of artists’ attempts to move beyond the suffocating institutional hegemony, and triumphal subjectivity of the Abstract Expressionists. A refrain that occurs constantly in artists’ writings of this period is their search for new materials.
Allan Kaprow in his eulogy to Jackson Pollock, published one month after the completion of the “Project in Multiple Dimensions”, couples this preoccupation with new ‘materials’ with its corollary ‘concrete.’
Pollock...left us at the point where we must become preoccupied with and even dazzled by the space and objects of our everyday life...Objects of every sort are materials for the new art...all will become materials for the new concrete art.2
This quest for a re-engagement with the materials of everyday life is central to a larger paradigmatic shift that was occurring amongst experimental artists during the late 1950s, particularly amongst American artists. At its most basic, this anti-formalist and de-subjectivising shift is premised upon a retreat from the representational (abstracted, illusionistic) to a presentational (concrete, anti-illusionistic) strategy.
Leo Steinberg in his article “Other Criteria”3 traces, what he describes as this “post-Modernist” strategy to the early 1950s. Through the works of Robert Rauschenberg he outlines a move away from the verticality of the traditional picture plane to one in which it is approached as a horizontal flatbed picture plane. This new orientation allowed the picture plane to admit a whole new order of materials and objects within its field:
The flatbed picture plane makes its symbolic allusion to hard surfaces such as tabletops, studio floors, charts, bulletin boards‑any receptor surface on which objects are scattered, on which data is entered, on which information may be received, printed, impressed...4
The significance of the printing press analogy, and by implication the repositioning of the printed page as an important locus of experimental activity, is a key feature of experimental art from the 1950s onwards. Steinberg locates the significance of the:
tilt of the picture plane from vertical to horizontal as expressive of the most radical shift in the subject matter of art, the shift from nature to culture. [my emphasis]5
While Steinberg’s article deals specifically with Rauschenberg he neglects to address the presence of two formative influences (Marcel Duchamp and John Cage) who shaped the formation of this new attitude and who, by letting “the world in again,”6 gave artists in all media the permission to experiment across and between disciplines. This activity has since come to be known under the umbrella term of “intermedia.”7
Both Duchamp and Cage shifted the terrain of what was conventionally understood as art and artistic activity. Duchamp’s ready-mades exposed the institutional and contextual frameworks through which objects acquire their status as art objects. Cage’s use of chance and indeterminacy as compositional strategies, and his incorporation of everyday sounds opened up new approaches for artists working in all media. It is, however, Cage who I want to discuss as having the most immediate impact on the working methods of experimental artists in the latter part of the 1950s.
While Cage’s long career as an experimental musician had a profound effect on the development of avant-garde music, he also had an equally powerful influence on a range of artists working in other media. Within the American context, the locus of influence is most concretely manifested in the students who attended the second of the courses he taught at the New School for Social Research, New York, between 1958-60. This class was publicized as a course in “Experimental Composition” and was described as “a course in musical composition with technical, musicological and philosophical aspects, open to those with or without previous training.”8 Amongst the group of participants that formed the core group during the 1958 session were Allan Kaprow, George Brecht, Al Hansen (artists), Dick Higgins, Jackson Mac Low (poets), Scott Hyde (photographer) and Toshi Ichiyanagi (musician).9
It is particularly significant that of the members forming the core group there was only one musician. When asked by an interviewer, “Wasn’t it surprising to have painters in a music class like that?” Cage replied:
It wasn’t surprising to me because I had, before that, in the late 1940s and the early 1950s been part and parcel of the Artists Club. I had early seen that musicians were the people who didn’t like me. But the painters did. The people who came to the concerts which I organized were very rarely musicians - either performing or composing. The audience was made up of people interested in painting and sculpture.10
The attraction to non-musicians of Cage’s compositional strategy, through which he gave artist's permission to foreground the actions and sounds of everyday life, was the realization that anything now became potential material in the art making process. Allan Kaprow reflecting on this period states “it was apparent to everyone immediately that these two moves in music [chance & noise] could be systematically carried over to any of the other arts.”11
This presentational strategy offered a new freedom for artists to utilize the objects and materials of everyday life, and through this practice, to reconnect with the social and cultural contexts from which they had been taken. The territory between art and life becomes increasingly blurred, and it is within this intermediary zone that these experimental artists would situate their activities. This rejection of abstraction and representation, and the preoccupation with physical materiality can be summarized by the term concretism. These concerns were not unique to the circle of artists attending Cage’s composition class.
The Gutai (concrete) Art Association, founded in Japan in 1954, railed against the art of their time as;
an illusion with which, by human hand and by way of fraud, materials such as paint, pieces of cloth, metals, clay or marble are loaded with false significance, so that, instead of just presenting their own material self, they take on the appearance of something else.”12
Their manifesto (1956) continues;
Gutai art does not change the material: it brings it to life...If one leaves the material as it is, presenting it just as material, then it starts to tell us something and speaks with a mighty voice.13
In a similar vein the Brazilian Noigandres group who together with Eugen Gomringer in Germany (1956) formed the international concrete poetry movement, state in one of the movement’s basic texts that the:
concrete poem is an object in and by itself, not
an interpreter of exterior objects and/or more or less
subjective feelings. Its material: word (sound, visual
form, semantical change).14
In a similar vein the Nouveaux Realistés (“nouvelle approches perceptives du réel”), declared in their first manifesto (1960) that;
Easel painting...served its time. It now lives out the last seconds, still occasionally sublime, of a long monopoly. What else is proposed? The thrilling adventure of the real perceived in itself and not through the prism of conceptual or imaginative transcription.15
Finally, the Wiener Aktionismus artists (Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, Otto Müehl and Rudolf Schwarzkogler), developed a performative action painting that situated the body as the concrete focus of their activities, and was based on similar conclusions that Kaprow reached in his appraisal of Pollock’s legacy. Otto Müehl wrote in 1962 of his efforts to move beyond easel painting and how this led to experiments with sculptural objects;
In our painting we recognise materials as the real objects of our works. It’s a question of presenting material, matter itself.16
A year later he presents his first public action in which the body becomes the supporting structure, he writes;
Material action is painting gone beyond the picture surface; the human body, a set table or a room becomes the picture surface, time being added to the dimension of the body, of space.17
By the late 1950s Leo Steinberg’s observations on the shift of the picture plane, from vertical to horizontal, would be extended directly into the environment itself. Both George Brecht and Allan Kaprow would move decisively beyond the limits of the canvas as a result of their encounter with Cage. Kaprow would develop his concept of environments, which would then lead him into Happenings and George Brecht developed his practice of Events. While Brecht recognized the similarities between the two activities, both having come “from a dissatisfaction with the static quality of so much work at the time,”18 he was also careful to distinguish between the two different approaches,
It seems to me that events in general are either a viewpoint on life or, in their more objective form, in the form of scores to be realized, notations, they’re more personal and they don’t even have to be performed outwardly. Some of them can be realized mentally too, so the whole emphasis seems quite different.19
The emergence within this expanded activity of the importance of printed instructions (Kaprow), scores (Brecht), as well as a whole range of graphically notated compositions by other artists, repositioned the printed page as a vital initiator of activities through the engagement of the viewer in a process of interpretation and performance. A seminal publication that announced the newly activated and presentational role of the printed page in this period is An Anthology (1963).
The origins of An Anthology trace a path that a number of artists were to take in the early 1960s, the move from the West Coast to New York. The material in An Anthology had originally been intended for a special issue of the magazine Beatitude/East, which was an offshoot of the original Beatitude that was based in San Francisco’s North Beach. The first issue of Beatitude was published in May 1959 under the direction of Allen Ginsberg, Bob Kaufman and John Kelly. Originally planned as a weekly newsletter (which it never was), Beatitude was a vital part of the North Beach beat community. The magazine’s name referred to a quite specific interpretation of ‘beat,’ which Ginsberg would later describe as “the necessary beatness or darkness that precedes opening up to light, egolessness, giving room for religious illumination.”20 In the fall of 1960, Chester Anderson, one of Beatitude’s editors, had come to New York and began publishing Beatitude/East.21 Anderson was also a poet and had been frequenting New York poetry readings and had attended a reading by Jackson Mac Low and La Monte Young in which they presented a number of experimental works by writers and composers. Anderson asked Young if he was interested in guest editing an issue of Beatitude/East, and Young accepted. Jackson Mac Low wrote later that Anderson gave Young “free rein to put in any new musical scores, poems or other verbal art, ‘concept art’ (Henry [Flynt] had recently invented the term), and anything else he might find appropriate.”22
|La Monte Young (ed), An Anthology, La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low publishers, New York, 1963, 2nd ed. 1970|
Young himself had recently arrived in New York during September of the same year. He had moved from Berkeley where he was a graduate student, in order to enroll in Richard Maxfield’s electronic music course. Young quickly became an active participant within the community of experimental artists and was ideally positioned to gather materials for Beatitude/East.23 In June of the next year, after Anderson had been in possession of the materials for some time, he handed them back to Young as plans for the special issue had fallen through, and he was moving back to California.24 A chance mention of this failed project in the company of George Maciunas (future impresario of Fluxus), elicited his offer to publish the material.25 In late September 1961, Maciunas was preparing the mechanicals for what was now called An Anthology. Soon thereafter Maciunas moved to Germany and remained there until 1963. Since he was now unable to be the publisher, the job was taken over by Young and Mac Low, and because the pages were printed piecemeal (and only when funds allowed), the publishing process was a lengthy one.
An Anthology was finally published in May 1963. Young was credited as the editor, Maciunas was listed as the designer and both Young and Mac Low were credited as co-publishers. Published in an almost square format (9”x8”), with fifty-six pages in a number of different colors, it was comprised of eighty-eight works, including two tipped-in sheets and two envelopes glued onto separate pages. The full title of the publication was:
an anthology of chance operations concept art anti-art meaningless work natural disasters indeterminacy improvisation plans of action stories diagrams music dance constructions mathematics poetry essays compositions.26
An integral feature of An Anthology is Macunias’ bold typographic designs that introduce the first seven pages, and subsequently preface each individual artists’ sections. As a structuring device for these assorted works his typography provides a clear demarcation between sections, as well as a distinct and engaging identity to the publication. Almost half of the dated works are from 1960 and the second largest grouping comes from 1961. Thus, An Anthology represents a quite specific snapshot of experimental works by a collection of twenty-four contributors who encompass the fields of music, visual arts, dance, performance/events and poetry.27
As the extended title of An Anthology indicates, most of the works chosen for publication functioned as initiators of activity and demanded participation by the reader/performer in
|La Monte Young, Composition 1960 #9, 1980|
their interpretation and realization. In varying degrees they all function as scores or compositions to be activated by the reader. Some of the works were constructed through chance operations, while others reveal a more traditional compositional structure, but what unites most of them are the varying degrees of indeterminacy implicit in their completion. It is clear that this publication owes a large debt to John Cage, indeed the first work is dedicated to Cage (Brecht’s “Motor Vehicle Sundown (Event)”). An Anthology also contains the first publication of Henry Flynt’s “Concept Art,” an important text that underscored the central position of written language and the printed page in the works of these experimental artists. Flynt begins his article by writing;
Concept art is first of all an art of which the material is concepts, as the material of e.g. music is sound. Since concepts are closely bound up with language, concept art is a kind of art in which the material is language. That is, unlike e.g. a work of music, in which the music proper (as opposed to notation, analysis, etc.) is just sound, concept art proper will involve language.28
With this article Flynt illuminates the theoretical underpinnings of many of the works in An Anthology, as well as the conceptual thrust that accompanies working with ‘concrete’ materials, as discussed earlier in this chapter. Since however, concepts have no shape unless expressed linguistically, he thus acknowledges language’s intrinsic partnership in communicating the ‘material’ of concepts.
One example, of the many in An Anthology, that illustrates the centrality of language in concept art, are the following instructions contained in a score by La Monte Young.
Composition 1960 #3
Announce to the audience when the piece will begin and end if there is a limit on duration. It may be of any duration.
Then announce that everyone may do whatever he wishes for the duration of the composition.
In contrast to the language-based pieces, a number of works are presented as completely graphic scores, and through their abrogation of language demand the viewer interpret
I had been thinking about the piece up to the moment of the concert, and I really hadn’t come up with anything that was appropriate. Finally, when I passed a vegetable stand on the way to the concert, I decided to buy thirty cents’ worth of string beans. When I got there, I counted them.29
Another exception to the language-based concept work in An Anthology is Diter Rot’s work “White page with holes.”30 This loose page is exactly what the title states it is, a lightweight card stock with ten holes, of two sizes, punched across the sheet. Laid across a page of printed material or held up in front of the viewer, this page is capable of creating an infinite number of indeterminate compositions. This work can function in two interlinked ways, as a matrix, that when placed upon a surface, allows the isolated elements to be viewed and read, or as a sheet of holes through which the world can enter. Jackson Mac Low recounts performing Rot’s page as part of a concert at the Living Theater on February 5, 1962, to raise money for the publication of An Anthology:
...I burned ten holes through a rectangle of much heavier cardboard, with some regard, but not too much for Dieter’s pattern. I placed a ladder on the stage and spread out on the floor around it a number of books, magazines and newspapers. Then I mounted a ladder to its top, dropped the cardboard and read whatever words were visible through the holes. I repeated this action several times.31
An examination of the works in An Anthology reveals that over seventy-five percent of them require some form of performative activity by the viewer. While a number of them can be realized imaginatively, others need to be performed in order to be completed. It is in this sense that An Anthology must be considered as a unique instruction manual to a pivotal period in the history of post-World War II arts in the United States. This performative aspect confirms John Walker’s assertion that one of the defining features in the development of artists’ periodicals was the merging of art and the art periodical. Additionally, An Anthology embodies one of the three features he distinguishes as emerging in art periodicals of this period, which is “the periodical as anthology or art gallery.”32
An Anthology would also serve as an early and exemplary ‘anthological’ model for the publication of experimental and conceptual works, as well as illustrating the
|Terry Riley, Concert for two pianists and tape recorders (two page score), 1961|
central position of printed matter within the experimental arts of this period. Formed out of a community of predominantly New York-based artists, An Anthology included many artists who would later become important figures in the fields of experimental music, dance, poetry, performance and video. For George Maciunas, it was this publishing experience, coupled with his introduction by La Monte Young to a community of avant-garde artists, that would set him on the path in establishing the printed matter basis of Fluxus, and the Fluxus community itself
Finally, there is one issue that needs to be addressed in regard to An Anthology, and that is how to define it as a publication? With the knowledge of its history as a planned issue of a periodical, it cannot be totally divorced from this originating context. However, the failure of this endeavor reduced it to its essential elements, and it’s apparent that an ‘anthology’ is a collection of material that can be realized in both a periodical and book format. The lack of periodicity of An Anthology, coupled with Young’s lack of interest in doing another issue, defines it as a single publishing venture.33 While it is often referred to as a book by its contributors and commentators, it is rather surprisingly omitted in two of the more influential publications that survey the history of artists’ books.34
In conclusion, An Anthology embodies all the problems of definition that are intrinsic to the intermedia works that it contains. An Anthology stands as a hybrid publication that is situated between publishing genres, and it is precisely this equivocal in-between quality that would position the periodical, and more generally printed matter, as important players in the expanded arts activities of the 1960s and 1970s.
1. Jona Marter, ed., Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1975-1963, (Rutgers:The State University and The Newark Museum, 1999).
2. Allan Kaprow, “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” Artnews September (1958): 56-57.
3. Leo Steinberg, Other Criteria (New York: Oxford Press, 1972). This essay had its beginnings as a lecture presented in 1968 at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. Its final form is the version printed in this book.
4. Ibid., 84.
5. Ibid., 84.
6. Ibid., 90.
7. Dick Higgins first used the term intermedia in his article “Intermedia” in: Something Else Newsletter 1, no. 1 (1966). In the following passage Peter Frank offers a succinct definition of ‘intermedia’ and distinguishes this term from the similar, but distinct, term “multi-media.”
The term ‘intermedia’ applies to art work which manifests characteristics of more than one art form, drawing on various of the otherwise distinct disciplines—the traditional, academically-defined practices of painting, musical composition, poetry, and other art forms—to establish an indivisible hybrid. The ‘multi-media’ rubric pertains to work in which disparate artistic practices are superimposed; although separating them destroys the work originally intended, the separated aspects function as coherent artistic phenomena, and thereby at least as ‘souvenirs’ of the original. Thus, visual poetry is an intermedium: if the visual aspect is removed, no verbal aspect remains.
In: Peter Frank, “Postwar Performance and Intermedia: The Technological Impetus and the Musical Paradigm,” in Avant Garde 7 (1992): 35.
8. George Brecht, 1991, Notebooks I, II, III. Edited by Dieter Daniels and Herman Braun (Köln: Verlag der Buchandlung Walther Konig), n.p. [Quote from footnotes in Notebook I]
9. Other participants were: Steve Addiss, Carol Galante, John Klein, Al Kouzel and Robert Weblein. The informality of this class encouraged friends of the participants to attend individual classes, including: Jim Dine, Harvey Gross, Larry Poons and George Segal.
10. Michael Kirby and Richard Schechner, “An Interview with John Cage,” in Happenings and Other Acts, ed. Mariellen Sandform (London/New York: Routledge, 1995), 67.
11. Allan Kaprow, The Blurring of Art and Life (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993), 224.
12. Jiro Yoshihara, “The Gutai Manifesto (1956),” in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 695.
13. Ibid., 695.
14. Augusto de Campos, Decio Pigatari and Harold de Campos, “Pilot Plan for Concrete Poetry (1958),” in Concrete Poetry: A World View, ed. Ellen Solt (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970), 72.
15. Pierre Restany, “The Nouveaux Realistés Declaration of Intention (1960),” in Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Kristine Stiles and Peter Selz (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1996), 695.
16. Otto Mühl letter to Erika Stocker, January 14, 1962, in Viennese Aktionism:Vienna 1960-1971, ed. Hubert Klocker (Klagenfurt: Ritter Verlag, 1989), 186.
17. Ibid., 186.
18. Michael Nyman, “George Brecht,” Studio International November/December (1976): 263.
19. Ibid., 263-264.
20. Allen Ginsberg, prologue to Beat Culture and the New America: 1950-1965, by Lisa Phillips (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1995), 18. This theme of egolessnes would also be a central feature in John Cage’s approach to
art making, as well as the spiritual dimension reflected in his interest in Zen Buddhism, both of which can be broadly interpreted as the search for ‘illumination.’
21. I have only been able to confirm that Anderson published one issue of Beatitude/East, this was issue #16 and it was published between September and October 1960, and printed by Ansgar Press. It is unclear whether Anderson’s move to New York was temporary or permanent. On the back cover of Beatitude, 15, June, (1960), there is an editorial that notes: “During the summer months, Beatitude will be edited by C.V.J. Anderson, and all manuscripts should be sent to him c/o Stamm, 103 MacDougal St., New York, New York, through
22. Jackson Mac Low, “How Maciunas Met the New York Avant Garde,” Art & Design 28 (1993): 29.
23. Other artists who moved from the San Francisco Bay Area at this time were:Joseph Byrd, Simone Forti, Terry Jennings, Walter de Maria, Robert Morris and Diane Wakoski.
24. Barbara Haskell, Blam! (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1984), 55.
25. Maciunas was taking publicity shots of Young and Mac
Low for a new music series he was organizing at his AG gallery
(a partnership with Almus Salcius). Maciunas had met Young in
the Spring of 1961 when both of them had enrolled in Richard
Maxfield’s electronic music class, a continuation of Cage’s
classes at the New School for Social Research.
26. An Anthology was republished in 1970 by Heiner Friedrich, New York. With the exception of the color sequencing of the pages, this edition is substantially the same as the first edition. This 1970 edition is the source for the present study.
27. The contributors to An Anthology were: George Brecht, Claus Bremer, Earle Brown, Joseph Byrd, John Cage, Walter de Maria, Henry Flynt, Yoko Ono, Dick Higgins, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Terry Jennings, Dennis Johnson, Ray Johnson, Ding
Dong (George Maciunas), Jackson MacLow, Richard Maxfield, Malka Safro, Simone Forti, Nam June Paik, Terry Riley, Diter Rot, James Waring, Emmett Williams, Christian Wolff, La Monte Young.
Jackson Mac Low in his article, “How Maciunas Met the New York Avant Garde,” Art & Design, 28 (1993): 38, clears up and clarifies some of the discrepancies in names and attribution of works in the 1970 version of An Anthology. Specifically he
states that the name Malka Safro replaces Robert Morris’ from the first edition. He neglects to notice that within the black border on the left of these photos in the 1970 edition is handwritten “by Anthony Cox,” a credit he acknowledges was in the first edition. David Degener, who’s name appears in both editions had no work in either. He credits the entry Ding Dong to George Maciunas, and states that “Dennis” is the former composer Dennis Johnson.
The highly unusual name Malka Safro led me to speculate that it was a pseudonym, however a reference to Malka Safro appears in the magazine\Lightworks 20/21 (1990): 55, in which Henry Martin relates the various staged situations that Ray Johnson would create when he received visitors to his home:
Another time while receiving a visit from Sam Wagstaff, Ray’s closet door opened and out came a young lady, Malka Safro. This so startled Wagstaff that he fled the premises...
28. La Monte Young, ed., An Anthology (New York: Heiner Friedrich, 1970), n.p.
29. Young performed this piece at the series of concerts he organized at Yoko Ono’s loft between Dec. 1960 and June 1961. The specific date is most likely May 1961 when he himself presented an evening of works. His account of performing Ichiyanagi’s score comes from: Richard Kostelanetz, The Theatre of Mixed-Means (New York: RK Editions, 1980), 202. For a listing of concerts in Yoko Ono’s loft see: Henry Flynt, “Mutation of the Vanguard: Pre-Fluxus, During Fluxus, Late Fluxus,” in Ubi Fluxus ibi motus: 1990-1962 (Milan: Mazzotta,1990),103, 105.
30. In the original 1963 version of An Anthology this page was titled “Black page with holes,” although the cardstock was white. See: Jackson Mac Low, “How Maciunas Met the New York Avant Garde,” 28 Art & Design (1993): 43, for an explanation of this discrepancy.
31. Ibid., 43.
32. John Walker, “Periodicals Since 1945,” in The Art Press: Two Centuries of Art Magazines ed. Trevor Fawcett and Clive Phillpot (London: The Art Book Co., 1976), 50.
33. Maciunas states in his interview with Larry Miller that, “La Monte wasn’t interested in doing a second Anthology book.” Larry Miller, “Transcript of the videotaped interview with George Maciunas, March 24, 1978,” in Fluxus etc./Addenda 1, ed. John
Hendricks (New York: Ink, 1983), 15.
34. These two books are respectively: Joan Lyons, ed., Artists’ Books: A Critical Anthology and Sourcebook (New York: Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1987).
Johanna Drucker, The Century of Artists’ Books (New York: Granary Press, 1995).