Francesco Conz History
He left behind warehouses, barns, cellars, two apartments in and around Verona, and a Casa Museo (Secret Museum) in Cappella Fasani in Ebrezzo to the north of Verona, stacked full of works of art: sculptures, objects, paintings, drawings, thousands of the editions he published—Edizioni Conz—as well as photographs, archives of correspondence and ephemera, and a peculiar collection of fetishes. He had numerous pianos and refrigerators prepared, fitted, painted, and inscribed by artists; for example, Allan Kaprow replaced the chords of a grand piano with telephones, while Esther Ferrer raised her grand piano to an imagined limbo with added wings. In Asolo, he invited Hermann Nitsch, Günther Brus, and many others to create works. Hermann Nitsch stayed there for seven years and created the famous Asolo Room, Günther Brus painted the cardinals, and Takako Saito produced several vendor’s trays and boxes. Conz started compiling the collections in the late 1960s, but Asolo became his “conversion”: “My road to Damascus is called Asolo, the date of my conversion 1972.” However, he was not converted to Christ like Paul, but rather to the Orgies Mysteries Theater of Hermann Nitsch, to Viennese Actionism, and to Fluxus.
Born in 1935 in the medieval “walled city” of Cittadella in the Veneto region into a wealthy family of Austro-Hungarian descent, Conz dropped out of college in 1958 and first traveled Europe to learn languages—he would eventually speak and write in eight. In Berlin, he met Hermann Nitsch, Günter Brus, and Joe Jones, the American composer and constructor of music machines. The encounter was followed in 1973 by the winter reise—together with Beate and Hermann Nitsch and Günther Brus—to New York, where he became acquainted with the avant-garde. The complete list of his pilgrimages in New York, driven by curiosity and inquisitiveness, would go on to include visits with John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Andy Wahrhol, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, Anne Noel, and Emmett Williams. While in New York, he bought the famous avant-garde anti-Vietnam War car—Charlotte Moorman’s red Beetle—with the fake bomb on the roof luggage rack. It was the car that took Jasper Johns, Nam June Paik, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Carolee Schneemann, and many others across America in the 1960s, with Charlotte Moorman at the wheel. From that time on, he traveled to art festivals all over the world: to Eastern and Western Europe, the United States, Japan, and Korea, acquiring art for his collection, producing editions, inviting artists to Asolo, and later to Verona, making exhibitions, surrounding himself with a large circle of disciples: no adepts, no “George-Kreis”, but rather carpenters, bartenders, and master painters, letting each artist become a saint for him or herself.
From 1972 until his death in 2010, the collection grew to include thousands of objects, mostly purchased or commissioned directly from the artists. He developed an interest in the art market only out of his own financial need, as he had to sell works to finance art editions or later simply to survive. Rather than sell, he gave or donated works to museums in Italy, England, Australia, Hungary, and Czechoslovakia.
Francesco Conz was never concerned with completeness, just as history can have neither beginning nor end unless one falls for historicism. Rather, with the editions, he brought little-known works from the Lettrism period of Isidore Isou or early poems by, for example, Eugen Gomringer from the late 1950s into the present. Asked why he did not collect the early works, Conz replied: “I never had the opportunity to pay much attention to the beginnings of the Fluxus movement because I wasn’t there; it thus made a lot more sense to occupy myself with what the artists were actually doing, and I continued to occupy myself with what they were doing. I have a rather romantic ideal of the artist, which means that I cannot believe that an artist was valid ten or twenty or thirty years ago and that nothing they did more recently can be of interest. People mature and should continue to evolve. I could see that these Fluxus artists have evolved and continue to do so. Titian and Monet did their best work at the end of their lives, and there is no good reason why that should not be the case again.”
Introduction to Fluxus
“Orthodoxy is my doxy, and heterodoxy is somebody else’s doxy.” (Anon.)
In any definition of Fluxus, any definition of art becomes invalid. Fluxus is an attitude: it balances the relationship of artist to work, as well as of work to contemplation, to event, to experience. Although it begins historically with its coinage by George Maciunas in 1962, the art of Fluxus lies in the diversity of its historical, cultural, aesthetic, and philosophical references. Be it from Homer to the Bible via Dante to James Joyce and Ezra Pound, Buddhism, Christianity, or Confucianism, be it medieval Minnesang, Nô theater, or script, chance, and calculation with Stéphane Mallarmé, from Gregorian polyphony to atonal music, Fluxus is a global artform: its artists from Asia, as well as from South and North America, from Europe to Mongolia encounter the world with irony, with humor, with seriousness, pleasure, and concern. Their art lies in the experience of others, as in the togetherness of encounters, friendships, and hospitalities at the numerous festivals and bacchanals of the last sixty years.
Fluxus cannot be assigned to any art genre; Fluxus exceeds all genres. Fluxus is nevertheless deeply rooted in language, directed towards and away from the meaning of things in the world. Fluxus is an ongoing grammatological conflict, linked to Lettrism and Concrete Poetry, as well as to a contemplation of the open artwork by the likes of, among many others, Marcel Duchamp, Umberto Eco, Jacques Derrida, Getrude Stein, and John Cage.
Is Fluxus an avant-garde? Yes, in the intimate connection between art and life practice; yes, in the rejection of mercantile and museum exhibition value; but no, as far as a fundamental rejection of history is concerned. Simultaneous with Pop Art, Minimalism, Conceptual Art, and Viennese Actionism, in the wake of Situationism and Lettrism, Fluxus was, is, and remains a journey: “Fluxus’ goal was the journey, but alas it became art,” the Dutch artist Willem de Ridder recalls with a grin.
Fluxus as an attitude became a form; Fluxus as art has lost nothing. With the end in sight, Fluxus is always at the beginning.
The Italian collector, publisher, and photographer Francesco Conz (1935–2010) left behind an extensive art collection in Verona. It includes works of art of Lettrism, Viennese Actionism, Concrete Poetry, and Fluxus. In addition, he published over 500 editions from the beginning of his collecting activities in 1972 until 2008. Parts of the collection were sold in 2014 in Austria and in 2016 in Germany, excluding the holdings of works of Viennese Actionism.
The Archivio Conz, based in Berlin since 2016, brings together the artworks and the Edizioni Conz. Its task is to research, restore, photograph, and catalogue the collection of over 4,000 works and make them accessible to the public in the form of publications, exhibitions, and events.
With its works of art, photographs, and fetishes by 220 international artists, the Archivio Conz occupies a special place worldwide, due not only to the scope of the Fluxus collection in particular, but above all to the clever and visionary bringing-together by Francesco Conz—of what were initially different art movements—into an understanding of Fluxus as the art of the present. Visual art, literature, and music come together on equal footing to form a development of the post-war avant-gardes, which is to be seen, read, heard, and at best, understood.
As a “living archive,” the Archivio Conz also takes on the task of protecting the meaning of art from the fixation of purpose, in an effort to add the work of art to a present of other questions, each in a different constellation.
The Archivio Conz is to become part of a worldwide network of collections focusing on Lettrism, Concrete Poetry, and Fluxus, and strives to integrate the questions of art into the questions of our present and future.
The Archivio Conz preserves things. These are situated within a specific time, and even if they do not change their shape, and even if a specific sense is stored within them, their meaning changes over time. An archive is a bridge on which we stand: it overarches space and time and makes us see the shores in new ways. The collector Francesco Conz considered his archive to be a sanctuary, the art as magic, and the artists as saints. His collection of the art of Lettrism, Concrete Poetry, Viennese Actionism, and Fluxus is, as it were, a profane counter-model to the Church, and in the words of the Lettrist Isidore Isou, strives with each work of art to offset and rethink the orthodoxy of creation.
Far from any doctrine, the Archivio Conz wishes to use its artworks to guide people to the bridge and to consider the conditions of contemporary art and society. Exhibitions, tours, debates, and research opportunities will support the bridge of the Archivio. Exchanges with other collections worldwide will span a diverse network as a foundation for education, research, and an understanding of the human condition today. Collaborations with universities, collections, and institutions will serve both the work—the work of the artists and that of Francesco Conz—and society.
There are different stages of work, typical of any professional archive, but the very nature of the Conz collection makes it unique of its kind. In fact, we work every day reconstructing a history, outlining the spirit of Francesco Conz and the vivid connections he created around him.
Our team considers the significance of each artwork both in its singularity and in its relation to the collection as a whole. Housed in approximately 1000m2 in Berlin, each work is carefully analysed, undergoing a process of accurate research, historical documentation and scientific cataloguing. With the main concern of finding coherent approaches in a radical movement like Fluxus, we follow an archival procedure which is attentive not only to the historical and artistic coordinates but also to the punctual conservation of this testimony, in order to make it accessible over time.
The Archivio Conz is not only dedicated to documenting all the items present in the collection, but also aims to reconnect them on a wider level with the histories they belonged to and the realities they may present in the future.
The archival process starts with unpacking the objects, analyzing the work, writing a condition report, proceeding for restoration with a treatment report if needed, photographing it, and finally cataloguing it, including all possibly retrievable information related to the work. The last step is to carefully store the work again.
Shirin Marquardt, Executive Director of Archivio Conz
Prof. Dr. Hubertus v. Amelunxen, Academic Director of Archivio Conz
Carmen Gheorghe, Managing Director
Miriam Bethmann, Cataloguing and Database
Elena Ranieri, Art Handling and Archival Logistics
Darren Norman, Art Handling and External Storage Logistics
Lisa Varotto, Art Handling
Frederic Mars, Art Handling
Joseph Bourgois, Art Handling
Giorgia Palmisano, Photography and Postproduction
Giulia Baresi, Photography and Postproduction
Sarah Seyring, External Head of Restoration
Tina Petras, Internal Head of Restoration
Julija Zaharijević, Restoration
Mariamargherita Maceli, Head of Research Department
Cecilia Bien, Research and Communications
Alina Kubiak, Production and Development
Manana Potskhverashvili, Assistant
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