“Fluxus and the Essential Questions of Life,” the current exhibition at the Hood Museum, does not resemble a typical art museum gallery. Two pairs of underwear are on display, as is a mouse trap with a cheap rhinestone in place of cheese.
As I walked into the exhibition, Jacquelynn Baas, the guest curator of the exhibition and a founding director of the Hood, encouraged me to step on a painting lying on the floor.
“Yoko Ono was a Fluxus artist,” Baas explained. “This is her performance piece Painting to be Stepped On.’ Her instructions say to take a piece of canvas, put it on the floor, and walk on it so you’re actually making the painting with your footprints.”
Pieces such as this illustrate the main principals of Fluxus, a movement spearheaded by Lithuanian-born George Maciunas in the early 1960s.
“Fluxus artists wanted to democratize the idea of art and what qualified you as an artist,” said Juliette Bianco, associate director of the Hood.
Many of the pieces were made from everyday objects that Maciunas and other Fluxus artists then sold inexpensively through mail-order and artist-run stores.
“They sold them like you would sell groceries or dry goods,” Baas said. “Fluxus artists were definitely trying to puncture the pretensions of art as something highly valuable.”
The exhibition, which opened on Saturday, marks five years of planning and preparing by Baas and Bianco. Following Maciunas’s death in 1978, a collection of his works was assembled at Dartmouth with the intention of educating students during their visits to the exhibitions.
The original intent in forming that collection has finally come to fruition in “Fluxus,” which will travel to other colleges and universities following its time at Dartmouth.
“We’ve designed the show to draw Dartmouth students into Fluxus so it can connect with their own questioning of their lives at this important juncture,” Bianco said. “It’s fulfilling its intention in a really beautiful way.”
The exhibition will remain at the Hood until August 7, before traveling to the Grey Art Gallery at New York University and the University of Michigan Museum of Art.
To guide students through their exploration, a map marks each section of the exhibition with a question representative of its works, such as “Sex?,” “Happiness?” and “Freedom?”
“We organized the exhibition around these questions to get the viewer started and then they can just engage with the work of art and see what it says to them about that question,” Baas said. “It’s designed to break down the barriers that you have to know something to understand art because it’s not about an intellectual knowledge base. It’s about an experience.”
A catalogue published by the College in partnership with the University of Chicago Press accompanies the exhibition. Excerpts from the catalogue, which is designed like an art self-help book, can be found alongside corresponding pieces in the exhibition.
The exhibition will be complimented by both a keynote lecture delivered by Baas on May 6 and a student performance at the Hopkins Center plaza on Thursday. Students in professor Jodie Mack’s “Handmade Strategies” film class and professor Soo Young Park’s studio art senior seminar will perform Alison Knowles’s “Wounded Furniture,” in which a piece of furniture is destroyed and then reassembled with red paint covering the “wounds.”
“The resulting furniture and film will be incorporated into the exhibition, so that’s really special,” said Bianco. “It’s the first time that student work will be included in a Hood exhibition.”
Several other surprise events will take place this week.
“The point of this show is for people to experience these pieces for themselves,” Baas emphasized. “We really want people to look and think for themselves and enjoy.”
The Hood Museum is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. on Wednesday and noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday. The museum is closed on Monday.