Who We Are
Archivio Conz is a Berlin-based research institution dedicated to the presentation, promotion, and research of Fluxus, Concrete Poetry, and Lettrism. It holds one of the largest collections of Fluxus art in the world, amassed over five decades by visionary collector, publisher, and photographer Francesco Conz (1935-2010).
Archivio Conz was established in 2016 to catalogue, research, and restore the remarkable collection left behind by Francesco Conz–commissioner, curator, patron, and friend of artists. The collection includes over 4,000 works by around 300 international artists–including Nam June Paik, Carolee Schneemann, Allan Kaprow, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Charlotte Moorman–as well as over 500 artist editions specially commissioned by Conz. Archivio Conz is working to make the entirety of this extraordinary archive available to the public and much of the collection is now accessible online.
Archivio Conz works to catalogue and restore this extraordinary collection for the public, as well as preserve the legacy of Francesco Conz.
A living archive, Archivio Conz also organizes exhibitions, events, talks, publications, and collaborations to contribute to a greater understanding of Fluxus, both with regard to its unique position in the canon of art history and to its peculiar relevance to the cultural and political issues of today.
Archivio Conz offers exceptional research tools outlining not only the singular significance of each work in the collection—its relation to history, to the collection, and to Conz—but also the realities they may present in the future.
“Fluxus’ goal was the journey, but alas it became art” – Willem de Ridder
The term ‘Fluxus’ was coined in 1962 by Lithuanian-American artist George Maciunas to describe a range of activities that he hoped would “promote a revolutionary flood and tide in art, promote living art, anti-art...to be grasped by all peoples [and] fuse the cadres of cultural, social and political revolutionaries into united...action.”
Rather than any specific movement or style, Fluxus describes an attitude towards art-making shared by an international network of avant-garde artists, musicians and writers active from the 1960s onwards. Exploring anti-art, Fluxus has had a huge influence on the development and definitions of art-making since the 1960s. Fluxus as an attitude, rather than a movement, demonstrates an interest in ephemerality, process, and the everyday, often characterised by irony, humor, and irreverence.
Fluxus cannot be assigned to any one genre; it incorporates conceptualism, minimalism, new music, poetry, performance, multiples, chance-based work, and much more. The essence of Fluxus lies in the diversity of its historical, cultural, aesthetic, and philosophical influences, with references ranging among Homer, Dante, James Joyce, Stéphane Mallarmé, Ezra Pound, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Minnesang, Nô theatre, Gregorian polyphony and atonal music.
Fluxus is deeply rooted in language, directed towards and away from the meaning of objects in the world. It embodies ongoing grammatological enquiry, linked to Lettrism and Concrete Poetry, as well as the open artwork contemplated by the likes of Marcel Duchamp, Umberto Eco, Jacques Derrida and Getrude Stein, among others.
Experience is crucial to Fluxus, reflected in the numerous events, performances, festivals, and bacchanals staged by Fluxus artists since the first official Fluxus event in 1961. Many of these events were important precursors to the development of performance and video art. Relationships are central to this examination of experience; Fluxus explores the nature of friendship and encounter, and the relationships between artists and their work, work and contemplation, and events and experience.
Fluxus is a global phenomenon with artists from Europe, Asia, and North and South America.
Lettrism and Concrete Poetry
Lettrism was founded by Romanian poet and artist Isidore Isou in Paris in 1945, directly after the end of World War II.
In Lettrism, letters and words are used as visual effects, such that the semantic meanings of words and characters play a subordinate role, and the decomposition of language becomes paramount in a new form of visual poetry. Works of Lettrism often deconstruct words, recomposing them into phonetic formations that no longer produce generally comprehensible meanings. All that remains are phonetic structures, sound poetry that overcomes the syntactic and semantic levels of language. One striking characteristic of Lettrism is the extensive exploration of calligraphic techniques and the invention of altered, flowing characters as well as entirely new ones outside the standardized alphabet.
In the 1960s, several members joined the movement, including Jacques Spacagna, Roland Sabatier, Alain Satié, Gérard-Philippe Broutin, among others. The ideas of Lettrism also radiated to Fluxus artists, including Ben Vautier who particularly emphasized the the influence of Isidore Isou had on his work. Roaming the city was important to the fledgling Lettrist group; in the Latin Quarter in Paris, they stuck posters on the walls of buildings at night, protesting the lack of perspective in the war-ravaged big city.
Concrete Poetry emerged later in the mid-1950s and, like Lettrism, has Dada roots. Concrete Poetry uses language, space, color and typography to create physical objects, with language no longer serving as a vehicle for conveying content but becoming content itself. Concrete Poetry is aimed at producing works that cannot be read exclusively as language but must be perceived by the eye through graphic-spatial design and distribution of the elements, or perceived acoustically through the phonetic sequence of syllables, like music. Concrete Poetry was an international phenomenon with important proponents including Augusto and Haroldo de Campos, Gerhard Rühm, Eugen Gormringer, and Henri Chopin.
Concrete poets alter, emphasize or ironize meaning through the geometric arrangements of words and letters, communicating chiefly through structure; words may be arranged in ways that mimic their definitions, a distinct characteristic of the genre that does not appear in Lettrism.
Francesco Conz was born in 1935 in the medieval walled city of Cittadella, in the Veneto region of Italy, into a wealthy family of Austro-Hungarian descent. He dropped out of university in 1958 and immediately traveled Europe learning languages—he would eventually speak and write in eight. In Berlin in 1972 he met the artists Hermann Nitsch and Günter Brus, and American composer and constructor of music machines Joe Jones. This encounter was followed in 1973 by a winter reise—together with Hermann and Beate Nitsch, and Günther Brus—in which he travelled to New York. There he became acquainted with the avant-garde.
The complete list of Conz’s pilgrimages to New York over the next four decades, driven by curiosity and inquisitiveness, would go on to include meetings with John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Andy Warhol, John Lennon, Yoko Ono, George Maciunas, Alison Knowles, Dick Higgins, Ann Noël and Emmett Williams. On one such visit to New York, Conz bought the famous anti-Vietnam War car—Charlotte Moorman’s red Beetle—which had a fake bomb installed on the roof rack. This 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, Conz traveled to art festivals all over the world, visiting Eastern and Western Europe, the United States, Japan and Korea to meet and collaborate with artists for his collection which specialized in Fluxus art, Viennese Actionism, Concrete Poetry and Lettrism. Prolific in his activities, Conz staged numerous exhibitions, produced over 500 editions under the banner Edizioni Conz, published hundreds of books, invited artists to his homes in Asolo and Verona, and surrounded himself with a large circle of disciples. He opened Casa Museo, a ‘secret museum’ in the village of Cappella Fasani, north of Verona. It was known only to intimate friends, and became a vibrant hub and important site of artistic production. Recorded in his correspondence and other ephemera are notes for an additional 250 unrealized projects.
Of particular note, Conz had numerous pianos and refrigerators prepared, fitted, painted, and inscribed by artists. Allan Kaprow, for example, replaced the chords of a grand piano with telephones and Esther Ferrer added wings to a grand piano and raised it to an imagined limbo. Hermann Nitsch stayed in Conz’s home in Asolo for seven years and created the famous Asolo Room. Günther Brus painted the cardinals in Asolo, and Takako Saito produced several vendor’s trays and boxes there.
Early on, Conz was committed to archiving, naming, and stamping his collection ‘Archivio Francesco Conz’, and recording and documenting his experiences by way of some 30,000 photographs. At the time of his death in 2010, his collection had grown to include over 4,000 objects, mostly purchased or commissioned directly from artists. Unlike other collectors of Fluxus art, Conz also collected Concrete Poetry and Lettrism, identifying the peculiar synergies between them.
Conz developed an interest in the art market as he had to sell works to finance the making of his editions or, later, simply to survive. For a short time in the 1970s he ran a commercial gallery in Venice called La Galleria d’arte moltiplicata (The gallery of multiplied art). Where he could, rather than sell works, he donated them to museums and universities in Italy, England, Australia, Hungary and then-Czechoslovakia.
When he died Conz left behind warehouses, barns, cellars, two apartments and his secret museum, all stacked full of works of art: sculptures, objects, paintings, drawings and editions, as well as photographs, archives of correspondence and ephemera, and a peculiar collection of fetishes. Initially a religious person but later disenchanted with the corporatization of the Catholic Church, Conz made artists his saints, and their works his relics.
For each object in the collection, the archival process comprises of unpacking, analyzing, writing a condition report, organizing restoration with a treatment report if needed, photographing and cataloguing, recording all possibly retrievable information related to the work. The last step is to carefully store the work again.
Each work is carefully analyzed using a process of rigorous research, historical documentation, and scientific cataloguing. The intention is to find coherent approaches to Fluxus, following an archival procedure which is attentive not only to historical and artistic coordinates but also to the appropriate conservation of testimony, in order to make all of the objects accessible over time.
An archive is a bridge. It overarches space and time and makes us see the past and the present in new ways. Archivio Conz preserves objects which originate from specific times but whose meanings change over time. It wishes to use this bridge to consider the conditions of contemporary art and society, and demonstrate the acute contemporary relevance of Fluxus, Concrete Poetry, and Lettrism.
Francesco Conz considered his archive a sanctuary, the art magic and the artists saints. Archivio Conz hopes to continue to protect art from a fixation of purpose, in an effort to add art to a different constellation of contemporary questions and concerns.
A living archive, Archivio Conz is part of a worldwide network of organizations focusing on Fluxus, Concrete Poetry and Lettrism, and strives to integrate the questions of art into all questions of our present and future.
Shirin Marquardt, Executive Director of Archivio Conz
Prof. Dr. Hubertus v. Amelunxen, Director of Archivio Conz
Carmen Gheorghe, Managing Director
Michalina Glura, Cataloguing and Database
Elena Ranieri, Art Handling and Archival Logistics
Lisa Varotto, Art Handling
Frederic Marschall, Art Handling
Giorgia Palmisano, Photography and Postproduction
Giulia Baresi, Photography and Postproduction
Alina Kubiak, Production and Partnerships
Manana Potskhverashvili, Research Department