Alice Hutchins, an American based in Paris between 1950 and 1980, began her artistic career there as a painter, in the 1950s, at the age of 40. Critical to her artistic development was her inclusion, as the only American, in a group of avant-garde artists, musicians, and poets in Paris in the 1960s. Hutchins exhibited with fluxus artist George Brecht at the Galerie Jacqueline Ranson in Paris, in 1966, showing her “retailored” postcards. She later became involved in the fluxus movement in New York City in 1967 when she met George Maciunas.

In 1967, prior to her first stay in New York, Hutchins was experimenting with three-dimensional magnetic work and involving the viewer as participant. Influenced by the social ideals of the 1960s, she had grown dissatisfied with painting and was looking for another form of communication, something that could be more easily understood and enjoyed. She found it with magnets and soon abandoned a promising painting career to devote her full attention to transformable magnetic assemblages and constructs. The Paris based art critic and author, Pierre Schneider, wrote in the New York Times in 1970 “If the role of the artist is to clarify society’s attitudes, few have done so more effectively than Alice Hutchins.”

Hutchin’s art is interactive, a collaborative aleatory event involving the artist, the viewer and the magnetic field. It begins with the artist’s assemblage of a magnetic field and carefully selected complementary parts susceptible to magnetism. Viewers are invited to freely interpret these lively materials as they wish and as the magnetic field permits. When moving a part, unexpected changes accompanied by sound lead to spontaneous rearrangement, giving the work an indeterminate quality. The artist encourages this life-like quality as a way to find new forms and relationships using chance and change. Once an arrangement is found that meets the aesthetic needs of the participant, the object can remain stationary until one feels a desire to make a change. Hutchins’ intention is to leave thought behind and be open to what happens. Through direct experience the participant discovers the possibilities of a piece and what it is saying.

In 2009, the last year of Hutchins’ life, her work was shown at The National Portrait Gallery, Smithsonian, Washington D.C.; the Pompidou Center, Paris, France; and the D’Amelio Terras Gallery, New York. The same year, an important article by Kathy O’Dell, “In the Field with Alice Hutchins,” Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory 19:3 special issue on “Women & Fluxus” was published.

WHAT THEY ARE SAYING  about alice hutchins

art critic peter frank:

“For some forty years, Alice Hutchins has been a quiet, steady, focused participant in a realm of human expression that is normally noisy, unstable, and erratic. The artistic avant garde would seem like no place for a still, small voice, but Hutchins has spoken with such lucidity and wit for so long that her peers have accepted her as unquestionably one of their own.”

charles donelan, 2012:

“With the power vested in her by magnetic fields, Hutchins exploded the notion that a finished sculpture required submission to a single physical outcome. Whether it’s the nestled links of a tiny chain attached by magnetic force to the face of a woman’s ring, or the magnetism that holds two large steel cylinders in an irregular vertical stack against the background of a large ferrite magnet, Hutchins’s assemblages invite reassembly and reassessment. As Hutchins put it in her central mission statement, ‘Multiple choice with freedom to change is central to my life.’ ”

joseph woodard, 2009:

“On this August morning, at age 92, the slow but assuredly steady-moving Hutchins announced, ‘I’ve started to re-work ... my pieces.’ As she spoke, she would casually tinker with her magnetized, mobile sculptures, touching and changing her art almost in the way a jazz musician will alter or embellish a melody... ‘Al Hansen introduced me once as doing possibly art. I just love that. Art is so static. I’m not against it, but I just want to make room for me, too.’ Her magnet-based art became a personalized spin-off of such Modernist ideals as junk art, found objects and art about technology. She also tapped into the idea of undermining old concepts of the sanctified, untouchable art object, inviting observers not only to touch, but also to alter the art. It was a wild idea, ripe for the implementing. ...As the morning meeting was winding down, she pointed to a blue magnet piece on a table, which had been tugging at her creative impulse of late. She spoke of her intention to give it a newer, simpler character...”

"In The Field with Alice Hutchins"

Kathy O’Dell, Women and Performance: a journal of feminist theory 19:3, 2009, Special Issue: Women and Fluxus.

Alice Hutchins Documents

University of Iowa.



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