Circulating, Documenting, Anthologizing, Exhibiting – Happening, Fluxus, Actionism

These artists’ books contain either proposals for projects and actions that can never be realized—like fantastic architectures or massive “concretifications”—or documents of performances that have taken place at festivals, in exhibitions, or even physically underground. In each case, the book assumes a kind of utopian function, standing in for an event that can never unfold, or for one that by definition cannot be captured as such by the media in which it is recalled. It is clear that the tension, if not the contradiction, between the “happening” and the book in which it is recorded is in fact integral to action- and performance-based art: from the start, performance art had to abandon any pretense of achieving “concrete presence,” to recall Eugen Gomringer’s phrase, and acknowledge instead a dialectic of the immediacy of performance and the mediation of its documentation. These artists’ books, in other words, are not incidental to the performative practices of Fluxus and Actionism, but should rather be understood as integral to them.

24 Stunden, the book, ostensibly documents 24 Stunden, the performance, in which an array of artists engaged in a series of provocative actions over the course of a full day and night. But the composition of the book, which includes realia from the performances as well as photographic documentation and textual scores, makes the distinction between the book and the performance difficult to draw. Rather, one could say, all of this – the performance, documentation, circulation, and this exhibition now – belongs to the (ongoing) work 24 Stunden.

With a similar gesture, Allan Kaprow’s Assemblage, environments & happenings, which is ostensibly an anthology of international inter-media and action-based art, invites readers to “Step right in…” to its pages. It is as if the artist’s book introduces a divergent temporality to the performance that makes the performance available, in a different way to be sure, to readers today.

Gallery Installation Photograph

Staff photograph

This is the case installation for Circulating, Documenting, Anthologizing, Exhibiting – Happening, Fluxus, Actionism.

Pop Architectur Concept Art [Pop Architecture Concept Art]
Dick Higgins (1938-1998), American
Wolf Vostell (1932-1998), German
Düsseldorf: Droste Verlag, 1969
Rare Book Collection

Richard Hamilton’s Guggenheim Museum project is represented on the cover of this book. The main difference between the German and English editions is the inclusion of Vostell’s sculpture, here in Hyde Park, Concrete Traffic (1970) in the later English translation. The exhibition “Fantastic Architecture: Vostell, Fluxus, and the Built Environment” at the Neubauer Collegium takes this book and the projects represented in it as a point of departure.

24 Stunden [24 Hours]
Itzehoe-Vosskate: Verlag Hansen & Hansen, 1965
Rare Book Collection

This tiny book contains documents of a 24-hour action staged on June 5, 1965 by Joseph Beuys, Bazon Brock, Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Paik, Eckart Rahn, Tomas Schmit, and Wolf Vostell amongst others. A small packet of flour inserted into the back of the book accompanies Vostell’s invitation: “occupy yourself with flour for twenty-four hours,” as an action to be realized any time. Vostell would draw his action for 24 Stunden yet again in his book Betonierungen, concretifying himself, suggesting the conflicting temporalities of performance art and its afterlives.

Actions, agit-prop, de-collage, happening, events, antiart, l’autrisme, art total, refluxus: Festival der neuen Kunst, 20. Juli 1964 Aachen […Festival of New Art, July 20th 1964, Aachen]
Tomas Schmit, editor (1943-2006), German
Wolf Vostell, editor (1932-1998), German
Mülheim: T. Schmit, 1964
Rare Book Collection