Episode 4:  ‘Open and Shut Case’ (1965) by Ken Friedman

‘Open and Shut Case’ (1965) by Ken Friedman Radio Fluxus: Stories from the Fluxus Archives

Open and Shut Case score as featured in Friedman, Ken. 2009. 73 Events (1956-2009).
Kokomo: The Indiana University Art Gallery.

Ken Friedman’s Open and Shut Case (1965) is a score-based work which manifests itself in a variety of ways. As is often the case for Fluxus events, the score has been written down a posteriori, out of the creation of an object.[1] The first pre-score iteration of the piece was an objet trouvé  a matchbox altered by Friedman with two imperative sentences: “open me” written on the outside and “shut me quick” on the inside of the box. Both this one and the subsequent version of this work, which also used a matchbox and was made by Friedman for Dick Higgins, have not survived.

One year after Friedman formulated his initial concept,  George Maciunas asked the young artist to write down the instructions for the piece for the first time and subsequently interpreted it into a Fluxus box Open and Shut Case (c. 1966). After Maciunas’ passing, his iteration of the score was republished by Barbara Moore as Open and Shut Case (1987) through ReFlux Editions, founded in the 1980s as a platform for continuing the publication of classic Fluxus multiples. In 1993, Dutch collector of artists’ books Peter Van Beveren published Open and Shut Case (1993) a direct interpretation of the score also in the form of a box, mimicking the first matchbox version.

Consecutive interpretations of Open and Shut Case, generated often on the occasion of exhibitions of Friedman’s scores, resulted in aesthetically dissimilar objects. In 2021, Lyman Allyn Art Museum in New London, Connecticut  produced a short TikTok video explaining the action scripted in the score with the use of a DIY Open and Shut Case made out of a wooden fruit crate. The elegant box in dark red faux leather made for the recent show in Kalmarkonstmuseum exemplifies an opposite approach to the realisation of the same, fairly simple instructions (see photograph below). The score as a text might also take on several material manifestations. While in the 1970s it was typewritten, xeroxed and distributed by post, in the 2000s it was sent digitally as a pdf and made into ‘print on acid-free paper’ using a high-quality inkjet printer. The printout can be consequently presented flat in a vitrine, pinned bare to the wall or presented in black or white Ikea Ribba frames. 

Open and Shut Case (2023) produced for exhibition 92 EVENTS hosted by Kalmar konstmuseum (08/02 – 23/04/2023). Courtesy: Camilla Ed.

Ken Friedman (1949, New London Connecticut) joined Fluxus in 1966 on the invitation of Fluxus co-founder George Maciunas, as the youngest member of the group. Subsequently, he worked closely with artists and composers associated with Fluxus such as Dick Higgins, Nam June Paik, John Cage and others. He was a director of Fluxus West though of as a gathering point for Fluxus-related activities in the western states of America. In addition to his art practice Friedman has pursued an academic career and is currently Professor of Design Innovation Studies at Tongji University in Shanghai, China and Eminent Scholar at the University of Cincinnati College of Design, Art, Architecture, and Planning. He is also a Professor Emeritus at Swinburne University of Technology in Melbourne, Australia, where he formerly served as Dean of the Faculty of Design. His research, situated at the intersection of design, management, and art focuses on strategic design and value creation for economic innovation. Friedman has done research in theory construction, research methodology, philosophy of design, doctoral education in design, knowledge management, and philosophy of science.

  • Friedman, Ken. 2009. 73 Events (1956-2009). Kokomo: The Indiana University Art Gallery.
  • Friedman, Ken. 2009. 99 Events (1956-2009). New York: The Stendhal Gallery.
  • Friedman, Ken. 2022. 92 Events. Torrance: Torrance Art Museum.
  • Cleland, Stephen. 2020. Ken Friedman: 92 Events. Wellington: Adam Art Gallery Te Pataka Toi
  • Hendricks, Jon. 1988. Fluxus Codex, New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., pp. 257-8

[1] Hölling, Hanna B. 2022. “Unpacking the Score: Notes on the Material Legacy of Intermediality.” Oncurating.Org, no. 51: 1–38. https://www.on-curating.org/issue-51-reader/unpacking-the-score-notes-on-the-material-legacy-of-intermediality.html#.YhyuN-jP23A.

Featured photo: Ken Friedman, Open and Shut Case (1987) – ReFlux version. Source: https://www.galerie-krinzinger.at/exhibitions/30100/fluxus-abc/works/429695/open-and-shut-case/


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