NEW YORK -- They say art is long and life is short, but last night at the Roxy, eclectic pop-star Beck set out to prove that art can also be loud, ridiculous and just plain fun.
"Fluxus means eternal movement," Beck said, speaking of the style of art in which both he and his late grandfather, Al Hansen, have worked, during the Manhattan, N.Y., opening of their joint exhibit. "It means stationary non-movement. And it also means art without any kind of faggy artists' intentions."
Beck performed before -- and often with -- a crowd that included Yoko Ono, the widow of late Beatles leader John Lennon, and Beck's brother Channing Hansen, as well as special guests Sonic Youth guitarist Thurston Moore and '60s rock icon Marianne Faithfull.
The opening party was for an art exhibit at Thread Waxing Space, which features the collages, photographs and video pieces of hip-hop folk-rocker Beck Hansen and his artistically inclined grandfather, who passed away in 1995. Al Hansen was a member of the Fluxus anti-art movement of the '60s, which reveled in the absurd and was known for its spontaneous performance-art pieces, known at the time as "Happenings."
But much of what Al Hansen did back in the days of Happenings and Fluxus were expressions of spontaneous absurdity, which can't fit neatly onto a museum wall.
The goal of Happenings was to sabotage the rules of art, and all over the Roxy, people were doing just that. One man whistled into a Mister Microphone, feeding back into a boombox perched on his shoulder. Another gave out cards that directed the recipient to smile or to shake hands with the person next to them. Performance artist Tracy Lipo howled the sounds of a car alarm, complete with a three-beep shutoff at the conclusion.
"Al Hansen was a combination of Marshall McLuhan, Buckminster Fuller and Dr. Irwin Cory all rolled into one," said one-time Happening participant and Hansen family friend Cary Fisher, 51.
Happenings blended lights, sounds, spoken words (and sometimes screams), music and audience participation into a kind of stream-of-consciousness collective expression. Some say the music and videos of Beck reflect those times, as in the song "The New Pollution" (RealAudio excerpt), but even Beck himself said the movement was much weirder the first time around.
At the Roxy, Beck took part with his mother, Bibbe Hansen, in a re-creation of a Happening that featured performers shooting cap guns, paper airplanes thrown into the audience and seemingly random phrases shouted into a knee-high microphone. His brother Channing Hansen conducted an "Elegy for the Fluxus Dead," reciting the names of late artists while duplicating his grandfather's feat of wrapping his head in masking tape.
By the end of the night, much of the audience of 800 people also were tangled up in tape and debris.
Shane Vogel and Ricardo Montaz, both 23, were selected from the audience by the transvestite master of ceremonies, Dr. Vaginal Davis, to be part of his show-opening performance. They said that they vaguely remembered learning about Fluxus in their art classes at New York University.
"I don't remember what they told me, just that Yoko Ono was involved," Vogel said. They'd also heard of Beck, but had no idea that his mother or grandfather were Happeners.
During Dr. Davis' performance, the Hansen boys had their bare feet treated to a dressing of syrup, whipped cream and a cherry between their toes. Then the good doctor sang them a song, sucked the sundae off their feet and invited Yoko Ono up onstage for a taste. She declined.
"Al was like my father," Fisher said of the man he first met in 1971. "There was a lot of rebellion and protest in Happenings and Fluxus. In Fluxus, the point was the meaningless of meaning. It was the opposite of content, in that you can't say, 'this is what it was about.' "
"When we did something, the meaning was just in what we did," he added. "And what we did was a combination of absurd, serious and ridiculous. But as far as we were concerned, the ridiculous thing was what had meaning."
Danika, 23, from Iowa, said she came to see Beck and Yoko Ono.
Had she seen the artwork the show was commemorating? "I know it's a lot of collage," she replied.
And what of Fluxus? "I don't know how to explain it. It's like a type of performance art, a staged performance. And there are various sects of it, like the Happening they're having this evening."