George Brecht, The Paradox Shirt, 1989, Silkscreen on fabric, paperboard, 34 × 23 × 6 cm, Edition of 100
Courtesy of Archivio Conz, Berlin
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Long, white, cotton nightshirt with silkscreened text on the front, "On my back is a lie," and on the back, "On my chest is the truth," in a title printed white paperboard box.
  • Silkscreen on fabric, paperboard
  • 34 × 23 × 6 cm
    (13 ⅜ × 9 × 2 ⅜ inches)
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  • George Ellis MacDiarmid, known as George Brecht, was an American avant-garde composer and artist whose work contributed substantially to the unfolding of Fluxus as a chance-based art practice focused on participation. He studied chemistry, graduating from the Philadelphia College of Pharmacy & Science in 1951. His initial interest in Abstract Expressionism and Neo-Dada grew parallel with his work as a chemist. In the late 1950s, anticipating one of the most significant themes of the avant-garde, Brecht became interested in the indeterminacy of chance, working on the first ink-soaked Chance Paintings. In 1957, he completed an in-depth study titled Chance-Imagery, investigating the role of chance in science and art history based on Dadaist and Surrealist projects, later published a Great Bear Pamphlet by Something Else Press in 1966. Between 1958 and 1959, Brecht took courses with John Cage at The New School for Social Research in New York and began to define the “Event Score” format: brief, deliberately open-ended instructions for elementary actions and everyday tasks. During this time, he established a close friendship with Robert Watts and Allan Kaprow. With Watts, Brecht organized the prominent Yam Festival (1962–63), a proto-Fluxus festival based entirely on small cards featuring written instructions distributed and consequently activated by artists such as Kaprow, Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, and Al Hansen. The event scores incorporate the quintessence of Fluxus. Drip Music (1959–62), for example, is Brecht’s most performed piece, included in countless Fluxus festivals and events, such as the landmark Fluxus Internationale Festspiele Neuester Musik in Wiesbaden (1962) and the Festum Fluxorum Fluxus in Düsseldorf (1963). The indeterminacy of the score leaves room for radically different interpretations each time the piece is performed and references Brecht’s interest in the sound produced by non-musical objects. Brecht’s work was included in many of the various “Fluxkits” and publications edited by George Maciunas, who was likewise responsible for the conception of the milestone Fluxus edition Water Yam (1963). Conceived to complement the previous year’s Yam Festival, it consisted of a collection of some seventy event scores by Brecht enclosed in a cardboard box. In 1965, Brecht left New York for Europe, moving first to Villefranche-sur-Mer in France to collaborate with Robert Filliou at the workshop-boutique La Cédille qui Sourit and subsequently settling in Germany. Brecht took part in two editions of the documenta (1972, 1977) and realized three sculptures titled VOID for the Skulptur Projekte Münster (1987). Retrospectives of his work have been held at the Kunsthalle Bern (1978), the Museum Ludwig in Cologne (2005), and the Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona (MACBA) (2005). In 2006, he received the Kunstpreis Berlin, and his works are now part of countless international collections.

Artworks (27)