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About Milan Knizak

A highly controversial figure in the Czech Republic, Milan Knizak is mostly known in America for his membership in Fluxus in the 1960s-1970s. A performance artist, Knizak is an art renegade who was banned by the Communist regime and kept in the fringes because of his political activism and art terrorism. After the Velvet Revolution, he was given the presidency of the Academy of Fine Arts in Prague. Although not really a musician or composer, he deserves a place in music history; he pioneered cut-and-paste techniques with lathe records later picked up by avant-garde turntablists like Christian Marclay and Martin Tétreault.

Knizak grew up in Marienbad (now Mariánské Lázné). After being thrown out of various Prague universities and art schools, he came to New York and associated himself with Fluxus, a group of postmodern conceptual artists (Yoko Ono was the best-known member). Knizak's performance art pieces usually involved very down-to-earth human activities turned into absurd gestures (like adults playing childish games in the middle of the street). His search for the ultimate desacralization of art took a new turn in the mid-'60s when he began to paint, break, scratch, and alter LPs in every possible way (including cutting them and pasting unrelated pieces together). These works stand as both art pieces and playable scores. He extended the concept to printed scores -- erasing notes, changing bar sequences, pasting unrelated passages together, etc. Recordings of his mutilated records were released by the label Multiphla in 1979 (reissued on CD by Ampersand).

Back in Europe in the late '70s, Knizak continued to create and lecture, even though he was persona non grata in Czechoslovakia and kept making enemies with his agit-prop antics and flammable politic statements. A friend of Vaclav Havel, he became one of the many members of the artistic community to take part in the first government of the liberated Czech Republic after the Velvet Revolution in 1989. As president of the Academy of Fine Arts, he was the source of many scandals, buying his own works with the institution's money and self-curating major exhibitions of his works. He later became director of the National Gallery in Prague. ~ François Couture

Czech Republic
Apr 19, 1940

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