Exhibiting Fluxus: Keeping Score in Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

Installation view Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde

This is the first post in a new blog series entitled Exhibiting Fluxus, showcasing works from the Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift that are currently on view. Its predecessor, the Unpacking Fluxus series, gave the public an insider’s view of the physical and conceptual “unpacking” of this renowned collection, acquired by MoMA in 2008. The current series looks at ways in which these works are being integrated into new and dynamic contexts through the Museum’s cross-departmental collection displays and special exhibitions, reflecting the movement’s modus operandi of blurring boundaries between mediums and cultivating interdisciplinary dialogue and collaboration. Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde, currently on view on MoMA’s sixth floor, presents a number of Fluxus scores by avant-garde Japanese artists and composers. Scores are an essential component of MoMA’s Fluxus collection. Produced throughout the 1960s and 70s in the United States, Europe, and Japan, they take on a variety of forms from small event cards with text prompting the viewer to perform everyday actions to larger graphic scores with abstract compositions for indeterminate musical and dance performances. While these scores can be enacted, their producers considered them stand-alone art objects and often exhibited them in galleries to be experienced for their visual qualities, for example in Tokyo’s Minami Gallery, where the 1962 Exhibition of World Graphic Scores introduced works by Fluxus artists George Brecht, Dick Higgins, and La Monte Young to a Japanese audience.

Although works of various mediums on view in Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde had a conceptual impact on the Fluxus movement—from Gutai to Neo-Dada—this post is dedicated to one particular display of scores representing the activities of the city’s Sogetsu Art Center, which opened in 1958. The installation highlights five Fluxus-affiliated artists—Toshi Ichiyanagi, Shigeko Kubota, Yoko Ono, Mieko Shiomi, and Yasunao Tone—whose avant-garde and interdisciplinary performances helped establish the Sogetsu Art Center as a dynamic hub of international artistic experimentation and cross-cultural exchange in the first half of the 1960s. There are a variety of scores on view, which act as traces of the types of performances that unfolded on Sogetsu’s stage and operate as a window onto specific artists’ practices at this critical moment in Tokyo’s art scene.

To the right of the display’s wall text hang two seminal graphic scores of avant-garde Fluxus composer Toshi Ichiyanagi: IBM for Merce Cunningham and Music for Electric Metronome. The scores—drawn and typed by Fluxus founder George Maciunas in 1960—are accompanied by a conceptual instruction sheet open to interpretation. The first score, IBM for Merce Cunningham, is a machine-like series of vertical, ink-drawn black and blank rectangles that signify to the performer the unfixed choreography and duration of actions and resting states. Avant-garde dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham, who, like composer John Cage, introduced chance operations to his practice, performed at the Sogetsu Art Center with his dance company in November 1964. This event, in the context of the score’s flagrant homage to Cunningham, is evidence of the reciprocal flows of creativity and cultural admiration between New York and Tokyo at this time.

Analogous to IBM in its indeterminacy, Music for Electric Metronome is a divergent map of numbers that signifies to the performer how to configure and reconfigure the metrical ticks of a metronome. In the spirit of Fluxus, this work promotes the unconventional and improvisational use of an object—ironic in this case, since a metronome is a device typically used for keeping a fixed and steady tempo. Additionally, IBM and Music for Electric Metronome, like many Fluxus scores, give creative agency to the performers and allow them, in a sense, to re-write the piece in different iterations across various spaces and times. This aspect of the graphic scores is heightened by their inherent reproducibility; many were published and disseminated by Maciunas in 1963 as Fluxus editions, multiples stamped “© Fluxus” that could be purchased at low costs. An identical stamp marks Yasunao Tone’s adjacent graphic score Anagram for Strings, 1961—a constellation of filled and empty circles functioning as abstract notation for a string instrument of the performer’s choice.

Yoko Ono, already a presence in the New York art scene by the early 1960s, traveled between the two cities to participate in experimental music performances at Sogetsu. Two copies of Ono’sGrapefruit, a book of scores and instructions divided into the categories of music, painting, event, poetry, and object, are exhibited in the vitrine below the graphic scores. Fitting the theme of the display, one copy of the book is opened to a score for an orchestra, instructing them to count all the stars in the sky for the duration of the piece, with a postscript that windows can be substituted for stars. When standing near the display, visitors can hear the looped sound of Ono coughing into a microphone (Cough Piece, 1961). The addition of an acoustic element to the display emphasizes the tension—pervading much of the Fluxus oeuvre—between the visual and the experiential

Mieko Shiomi. Event for the Midday (In the Sunlight). 1963. Event Score. Ink on paper, 4 9/16 x 7″ (11.5 x 17.8 cm)

Mieko Shiomi. Event for the Midday (In the Sunlight).1963. Event Score. Ink on paper, 4 9/16 x 7″ (11.5 x 17.8 cm)

Complementing Ono’s Grapefruit are a number of small event cards by Mieko Shiomi that elicit the spectator to perform mundane tasks of the mind and body. Asking participants to open and shut their eyes seven times at varying intervals over the course of seven minutes and then to look at their hands,Event for the Midday (In the Sunlight) is emblematic of the mundane nature of these events. Shiomi’s scores resonate with George Brecht’s concept of the Event Score, which he originated during John Cage’s proto-Fluxus experimental composition course at New York’s New School for Social Research in the late 1950s. Although Cage too performed at Sogetsu, Shiomi developed her concept for the Event Score outside of his tutelage and unaware of Brecht’s concurrent activities. It would be Maciunas’s intervention that would cause these two parallel practices to intersect in Fluxus compilations like the anthologies and Fluxkits.

Shigeko Kubota. Letter to George Maciunas. 1964. Ink and collaged photograph on rice paper, 37 7/16 x 10 5/8″ (95 x 27 cm)

In the rightmost corner of the display hangs a conspicuous correspondence from Shigeko Kubota to Maciunas informing him of her decision to accept his invitation to join the Fluxus collective in New York in 1964. At first glance, this letter appears out of place in the context of the rest of the Fluxus scores, but as Kubota notes in her prose, this letter is staging what she considered the biggest performance of her life—leaving Tokyo to begin a new life in a foreign city. As this correspondence suggests, the dynamic programming at Sogetsu piqued Maciunas’s fascination with experimental Japanese artists and built bridges that conceptually and physically linked Fluxus artists across continents.

These Fluxus scores, among others, are on display in Tokyo: 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde, now through February 25, 2013.





Aesthetica Issue 50

December – January 2013
Single Issue £3.95  |  Subscriptions from £18.95

This issue marks the 10th anniversary of Aesthetica. We start with Sanja Iveković’s, Unknown Heroine. Then how Tokyo re-invented itself in Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde. Dorothy Bohm, one of Britain’s most revered photographers, opens Women in Focus. Isa Genzken showcases new sculpture. Cartier-Bresson: A Question of Colour juxtaposes Cartier-Bresson’s photographs with current photographers. We explore some of photography’s rising stars: Alex Prager, Evgenia Arbugaeva, and the seductive images of Montana Lowery. We also present a 10 year overview of Aesthetica, revisiting some of our favourite features.


In film, Mark Herbert celebrates Warp Films’ 10th anniversary. We also present an overview of our film festival ASFF 2012. In music, we examine the meaning of the special edition, while Ana Silvera discusses her debut, The Aviary. In performance, Gísli Örn Garðarsson chats about physical theatre and his adaptation of Metamorphosis. The last words go to artist Jeremy Hutchison.

Brighton Photo Biennial



Agents of Change:

Photography and the Politics of Space

Bringing international and emerging photographers and artists to the city, the fifth Brighton Photo Biennial explores the theme Agents of Change: Photography and the Politics of Space  with a packed programme of free exhibitions, new commissions, talks, screenings, workshops and masterclasses.

Find out more about BPB12 and this year’s theme.


City Country Name Founded Frequency Web


Rencontres d’Arles<www.rencontres-arles.com>
France Arles
1969 annually Yes
Fran.ois H.bel

Athens Photo Festival <www.hcp.gr>
Greece Athens
1987 annually Yes
Stavros Moresopoulos

European month of Photography Berlin <www.mdf-berlin.de>
Germany Berlin
2004 biannually  No
Oliver B.tz, Thomas Friedrich

Foto Art Festival <http://www.fotoartfestival.com/>
Poland Bielsko-Biała
2005 biannually Yes
Andrzej Baturo, Inez Baturo

Rhubarb-Rhubarb <www.rhubarb-rhubarb.net>
UK Birmingham
1999 annually Yes
Rhonda Wilson

Brighton Photo Biennial <www.bpb.org.uk>
Brighton UK
2003 biannually Yes
Helen Cadwallader

Month of Photography <www.sedf.sk>
Bratislava Slovakia
annually 2009 Yes
Vaclav Macek

Fotobook Festival <www.kasselerfotoforum.de>
Kassel Germany
2005 annually Yes
Dieter Neubert, Michael Wiedemann

Kaunas Photo Festival <www.kaunasfoto.info>
Kaunas Lithuania
2004 annually Yes
Mindaugas Kavaliauskas

Internationale Photoszene K.ln <www.photoszene.de>
K.ln Germany
1984 biannually Yes
Norbert Moos

Photomonth in Kr.kow <www.photomonth.com>
Kr.kow Poland  2002 annually Yes
Tomasz Gutkowski, Piotr Lelek, Karol Hordziej

Internationales Fotografiefestival F/Stop Leipzig <www.f-stop-leipzig.de>
Leipzig Germany
2006 annually Yes
Kristin Dittrich

International Festiwal of Photography Ł.dzv <www.fotofestiwal.com>
Łodz Poland
2001 annually 2009 Yes
Krzysztof Candrowicz, Marta Szymanska

European Month of Photography Luxembourg <www.cafecreme-art.lu>
Luxembourg Luxembourg
2000 biannually No
Pierre Stiwer, Paul DiFelice, Sneja Dobrosavljevic

PhotoEspa.a <www.phedigital.com>
Madrid Spain 1998 annually 3 Jun–26 Jul 2009 Yes Claude Bussac

Fotofestival Mannheim_Ludwigshafen_Heidelberg <www.fotofestival.info>
Mannheim Germany
2005 biannually Yes
Dietrich Skibelski, Carolin Ellwanger

Fotoseptiembre <www.conaculta.gob.mx/cimagen>
M.xico Mexico
1993 biannually No
Alejandro Castellanos

Foto & Photo <www.admiraphotography.it>
Milano Italy
2001 biannually No
Enrica Vigan.

Le Mois de la Photo . Montr.al <www.moisdelaphoto.com>
Montreal Canada
1989 biannually Yes
Chuck Samuels

Fashion and Style in Photography <www.mdf.ru>
Moscow Russia
1999 biannually 2009 No
Olga Sviblova

Moscow International Month of Photography <www.mdf.ru>
Moscow Russia
1996 biannually Yes
Olga Sviblova

Darmst.dter Tage der Fotografie <www.dtdf.de>
Darmstadt Germany
2004 annually No
Albrecht Haag, Alexandra Lechner et al.

FORMAT International Photography Festival <www.formatfestival.com>
Derby UK
2004 biannually Yes
Louise Clements, Mike Brown

Noorderlicht International Photofestival <www.noorderlicht.com>
Groningen Netherlands
1990 annually  No
Ton Broekhuis

Triennale der Photographie Hamburg <www.phototriennale.de>
Hamburg Germany
1998 triannually Yes
Henriette V.th-Hinz, Helmut Sander

LUMIX Festival of young Photojournalism <www.fotofestival-hannover.de>
Hannover Germany
2008 biannually Yes
Rolf Nobel

Hereford Photography Festival <www.photofest.org>
Hereford UK
1990 annually No
Richard Heatly, Nic Millington et al.

Xposeptember <www.xposeptember.se>
Stockholm Sweden
1998 biannually No
Helena Holmberg

Backlight Photo Festival <www.backlight.fi>
Tampere Finland
1987 triannually Yes
Ulrich Haas-Pursiainen, Irma Puttonen et al.

Fotonoviembre <www.fotonoviembre.com>
Tenerife Spain
1991 biannually Yes
Antonio Vela de la Torre

Photo Biennale <www.photobiennale.gr>
Thessaloniki Greece
2008 biannually Yes
Vangelis Ioakimidis

Europ.ischer Monat der Fotografie Wien <www.monatderfotografie.at>
Vienna Austria
2004 biannually Yes
Thomas Licek

Different Dimension <www.levallgallery.com/Photo2>
Novosibirsk Russia
2006 biannually  No
Andrey Martynov

Odense Foto Triennale <www.oftfyn.dk>
Odense Denmark
2000 triannually Yes
Ingrid Fischer Jonge, Jens Friis

Mois de la Photo <www.mep-fr.org>
Paris France
1980 biannually NovNo
Jean-Luc Monterosso



Foto Arte Braslia <www.fotoartebrasilia.com.br>
Brasilia Brazil
2002 biannually Yes
Karla Osorio Netto

Encuentros abiertos festival de la luz <www.encuentrosabiertos.com.ar>
Buenos Aires Argentina
1989 biannually Yes
Alejandro Montes de Oca

Mayo Fotografico <http://mayofotografico.wordpress.com>
Xalapa Mexico
1990 biannually Yes
Miguel Fematt, Rosa Maria Lopez


FotoFest International <www.fotofest.org>
Houston USA
1986 biannually Yes
Wendy Watriss, Fred Baldwin


New York Photo Festival <www.nyphotofestival.com>
New York USA
2008 annually No
Daniel Power, Frank Evers, Sam Barzilay et al.

Photolucida <www.photolucida.org>
Portland USA
1999 biannually Yes
Laura Moya

CONTACT Toronto Photography Festival <www.contactphoto.com>
Toronto Canada
1997 annually Yes
Darcy Killeen, Bonnie Rubenstein



Daegu Photo Biennale <www.daeguphoto.com>
Daegu South Korea
2006 biannually Yes
Bohnchang Koo