Henry Flynt

10.02.12

Henry Flynt’s long career spans many roles: mathematician, musician, artist, and anti-art activist, as well as philosopher. In 1961, he coined the term “concept art” (not to be confused with Conceptual art), ushering in a new form of work that exploits and undermines the tautological structures of perceptual logic. “ ‘Concept art,’ ” he wrote in 1961, “is first of all an art of which the material is ‘concepts’. . . . Since ‘concepts’ are closely bound up with language, concept art is a kind of art of which the material is language.”

Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1940, Flynt began studying mathematics at Harvard University at the age of seventeen but later withdrew to pursue artmaking. He moved to New York in 1960, where he was introduced to the local avant-garde, and performed before such luminaries as John Cage and Marcel Duchamp. Flynt was also featured extensively in La Monte Young’s An Anthology of Chance Operations (1963). Flynt subsequently denounced the art world and demonstrated against “Serious Culture” at institutions including Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in 1963–64. In the 1970s he produced experiments in music composition with fellow artist-mathematician and close collaborator Catherine Christer Hennix. It was not until the late 1980s that Flynt resumed his role as a visual artist, consistently exhibiting his works at Emily Harvey Gallery in New York and subsequently at the 1990 Venice Biennale. Flynt’s retrospective, “Activities 1959–,” is his first museum exhibition. It is on view at the Kunstverein Düsseldorf from October 6, 2012 to January 20, 2013, and then travels to the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnolgie in Karlsruhe, Germany. Curated by Hans-Jürgen Hafner, the show tracks Flynt’s exhaustive development of concept art as a critical genre. Here he speaks about the exhibition, his new works, and the evolution of the genre over the past fifty years.


Henry Flynt interviewed at the Artforum offices in September 2012.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner