An artist wearing a black mask tore his way through a wall of heavy brown paper, emerging triumphant on the other side. "Paper Piece!" he exulted, taking a bow with his arms stretched into a giant X. Everyone clapped.
"How'd you like it?" he asked. We liked it just fine. Nice and short.
The 60-second performance by New York artist-musician-performer Peter van Riper marked the opening at Washington Project for the Arts last week of a show of work by 10 artists who call themselves "Young Fluxus." Like van Riper, they still associate themselves with the worldwide movement called "Fluxus," which began in Europe in the '60s and served as a forum for artists working in the new realm in which sculpture, dance, theater and music were being crossbred into happenings, performance, video, process and concept art. Since then, Fluxus had appeared to be defunct.
"Nobody seemed to care what we were going to call it," wrote performance artist Larry Miller in the catalogue for the WPA show, which opened at Artists Space in New York last spring. "If you ask people, 'Are you Fluxus?' they will probably just laugh at you. It's more like Zen than Dada." His entry in the current show is a compartmented plastic box filled with kazoos, ear syringes, baby bottles and other things people put in their mouths and ears -- a mildly witty piece titled "Orifice Flux Plugs."
Wit and whimsy -- rather than profundity -- seem to characterize the better pieces in this show, the most ambitious being Yoshimasa Wada's cumbersome three-part musical sculpture made of vacuum cleaner tubes, bagpipe parts and reeds. It can be activated by adventurous viewers. "An Adapted Bagpipe with Sympathy," for example, "plays" when a giant bellows is stepped upon, blowing up a canvas bag which, in turn, emits space-age sounds.
Amid the fun and games, Rimma Gerlovin's piece, "Wandering Jew," comes as a surprise, though she manages to treat a serious subject tastefully within a game-like context: You move a little cube (titled "Mr. Cohen") around on a person-shaped game board, each stop representing a different country. In a separate work, husband Valery Gerlovin has created a whole universe of "Bread Insects" (all made from mushed bits of bread), which climb the wall nearby. Eating this colony of crawlies, he says, is the only method of biological control.
As two of the most imaginative artists in the show, the Gerlovins -- recent Russian emigre's -- make us curious to know more about the work of colleagues they have left behind. We don't have long to wait. The Gerlovins have organized an exhibition of contemporary Russian artists' books -- known as Samizdat -- which opened to enthusiastic reviews in New York last summer and will be shown at WPA in December. It is something to look forward to. Ken Friedman's 'Events'
On view in WPA's lobby is another body of work good for a chuckle or two, or even more. It consists of 60 typed sheets of paper tacked to the wall, each one with directions for performing an "event," dreamed up by performing conceptualist and critic Ken Friedman. One, for example, is "Scrub Piece," which reads: "On the first day of spring, go unannounced to a public monument and clean it thoroughly." It couldn't hurt.
Friedman says all of his works have been performed at least twice -- including one in which an entire orchestra plays phonographs. One proposal particularly intrigued us. Titled "The New Critic," it directs: "A column of criticism is published. In each column the critic is photographed holding up the artwork to be discussed . . . The critical opinion is rendered by a 'thumbs up' or a 'thumbs down' signal in the photograph. There is no other comment."
"The New Critic" was performed in Berkeley in 1970. We opted not to try it here, since Friedman's view of the critic's role seemed rather more brutal than our own.
The "Young Fluxus" shows will continue through Nov. 5 at 400 Seventh St. NW. Antero Kare's Abstracts
As part of the "Scandinavia Today" celebration, Slavin Gallery is featuring paintings by Antero Kare, a prominent young Finnish artist and critic. He is showing two bodies of recent work: some drip and spatter paintings redolent of Jackson Pollock -- with Morris Louis stripes down the side--and some very handsome abstractions that finally shrug off American influence and allow Kare a statement of his own.
He has a good deal to say in the best of these moody, nature-inspired "atmospheres." Made from floating ovals of rich, deep color -- often muted with a layer of matte gray -- the surfaces have the topography of moonscapes (marble sand and modeling paste has been added to the paint). The prickly textures somehow reinforce the allusions to enveloping mist, evening darkness and snow-filled skies. "Evening" and "Evening Whispers Darkly" are top-notch paintings. The show continues on the fourth floor at 404 Seventh St. NW, through Oct. 9.