Monday, December 8, 2008
George Brecht, RIP
Artforum today reports that George Brecht, one of my favorite artists, died on Friday. The story doesn't seem to have hit any other English language news sources (at least based on Google and Yahoo News searches), which is unfortunate, given his influence.
Brecht was one of the most important of the artists working under the banner of Fluxus. I consider his publication Wateryam to be one of the three essential Fluxus publications (alongside An Anthology, edited by La Monte Young and Jackson Mac Low, and Yoko Ono's Grapefruit). Originally published in June 1963, the boxed work contained small printed cards containing "event scores". These works were developed after Brecht attended John Cage's Experimental Music Composition classes at the New School for Social Research in New York. Brecht took the classes with Fluxus/Pop Artist Robert Watts, Al Hansen (grandfather of Beck) and Allan Kaprow, whose "happenings" were the antithesis of the simple gestures that the "event scores" suggested. Kapprow praised Brecht as having "an understanding of an intimate situation was far greater than mine" and added "He became a leader; and immediately he influenced not only me, but everybody else: Jackson Maclow, Higgins, Hansen. George Segal stopped by, and so did Dine, Whitman and Oldenburg."
Any serious artist book or multiples collection should contain Wateryam. I'd also reccomend his collaborative book with Robert Filliou, Games at the Cedilla. It's the best of the excellent Something Else Press books, documenting the year that Brecht and Filliou ran a store which sold "anything that contained a cedilla, and anything that did not". Henry Martin's An Introduction to the Book of the Tumbler on Fire contains excellent interviews and images, but it is hard to come by. More recently Gagosian published a decent monograph. I think they've sold out, too, but a few can be found on the secondary market at reasonable prices.
There is a fair amount of information about Brecht online, so I'll limit this post to my two favorite stories:
When asked about the difference between Pop Art and Fluxus, Brecht replied (forgive the paraphrase, I can't find the original interview) that whereas a Pop artist might take a comic strip panel and blow it up into a huge silkscreened canvas, he was more likely just to cut it out of the newspaper and put it in his wallet.
In his later years he became very reclusive, rarely participating in the artworld. I heard from another Fluxus artist that he owned a telephone, but that he kept it unplugged. If you wanted to speak with him, you had to send him a letter requesting that he accept the call. If he granted the request, he would plug in his phone at the agreed upon time.
I was lucky enough to get a response from two mailings I sent him - short but pleasant replies, one thanking me for something I had sent and another declaring that he no longer wished his work to be viewed as part of Fluxus ( I think I asked for an interview for a Fluxus article I was writing in the nineties).
In closing, a picture of Elvis Presley performing Brecht's Piano Piece from 1962.