This is a great month to visit our University of Michigan Museum of Art. There is a wild opening exhibit, a few continuing exhibitions to see before they leave, and some special one-time events that make the UMMA so much more than a mere world-class art museum. The whole place is wild, I tell you!
Opening on February 25 and running through May 20 is “Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life.” Fluxus is an art movement based on the Fluxus Manifesto written in 1962 by Lithuanian-born American artist George Maciunas, the group’s unofficial leader until his death in 1978. Better known members include John Lennon and Yoko Ono. A number of avant-garde modern art movements issued manifestos throughout the 20th century, perhaps most notably the Futurist, Dada and Surrealist schools. Their manifestos elaborated overarching theories on why their artistic approach was new, unique, important and better.
As time went on, art manifestos became facetious, silly even. Manifestos for manifestos sake. The S.C.U.M. Manifesto, associated with Andy Warhol’s Factory, comes to mind (as in “Society for Cutting Up Men”). I did like the 1989 “Post Porn Modernist Manifesto,” established by female porn stars, most notably Annie Sprinkle, who reveled in explicit, “sex-positive” performance art. But, still, that was an angle, a gimmick. The Fluxus camp is one of the serious modern art movements, and this is your chance to see 116 works up close and personal. The original Fluxus Manifesto itself looked like half collage, half ransom note. Just what did the Fluxus Manifesto demand half a century ago? Above all that there is no barrier, no boundary between high art and low life. And yet…and yet…yes, anything can be art and anyone can do it if you’re in the right frame of mind and you put your viewer in the right frame of mind. And yet what makes art art remains unspoken and inexpressible and in a sense undetectable. As simply as possible, Fluxus calls itself: “Art/Not Art.” It is a very Zen approach to life and art, and like Zen it is often saturated in humor and surprise and delight. Traditional artistic media are jettisoned and performance, installation and absurdist productions are preferred, often resistant to conventional forms of museum display. Direct, playful participation of the viewer is often encouraged. Be the Manifesto! You’ll never look at consumer products the same way again.
Videos and Acquistions
Continuing through April 29 is “Robert Wilson: Video 50.” Wilson is famous for the trance-dream-surreal imagery of his super-long operas from the mid-1970s like “The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin,” and, with Philip Glass, “Einstein on the Beach.” I hope you caught some of the latter last month when the entire company of “Einstein” was in town, working through technical rehearsals and early previews with the University Musical Society prior to its North American premier in Toronto in June. Amazing. Also amazing are the randomly arranged 30-second “episodes” of the “Video 50” exhibit. They are micro-stories, or non-stories conflating unrelated or seemingly unrelated characters, unrelated and unrecognizable for most of us. Could you identify French perfumier Hélène Rochas or Minister of Culture Michel Guy? Me neither. But who cares? These vignettes are fun, fun, fun.
Also check out “Recent Acquisitions: Curator’s Choice, Part I.” Running through March 18, this is the first of a two-part show and show-off, proudly, of the UMMA’s collection that was gifted within the past five years. This is a first look at recently acquired artworks, mainly prints, drawings and photographs from diverse maestros, including Rembrandt (yes, van Rijn, silly), Annie Leibovitz, Edward Steichen and many others. It was organized by Carole McNamara, Senior Curator of Western Art. She chose works that focus on the most compelling and enduring themes that have been embraced by artists in Europe and North America, beginning with the human form as expressed in academic nude studies. Bring the whole family! Contrary to politician opinion there’s nothing wrong with the human body. Stay gold, Carole!
On Wednesday, February 15, witness Khaled Al-Saai demonstrating his breathtakingly beautiful calligraphy. Al-Saai taught this art form at the University in 2002, and now, ten years later, he’s back. His work is now part of the UMMA collection and this is an ideal opportunity to witness a genial master at work and accessible to civilians like you and me.