A homesteader in the 1950s, Fluxus artist Alison Knowles was an integral part of the downtown New York artist community that would become SoHo. By 1962, a group of friendships coalesced as Fluxus, whose founding tour brought the Event type of instructional performance to Europe, and later, to Asia and the U.S. She designed and edited John Cage’s Notations book of experimental composition and Marcel Duchamp’s last print, Coeurs Volants, in 1967. Both were published in partnership with Knowles’s spouse, Dick Higgins, whose Something Else Press published early work by Knowles and other members of Fluxus, Happenings, concrete and experimental poetry, and the historic avant-garde.
Since 1964, Knowles has made large and small experimental books: the Bean Rolls (1964) was a hand-held, canned book of small scrolls of bean lore and information which has appeared in important artists’ books surveys, alongside titles such as By Alison Knowles and More by Alison Knowles (1965/1979), Spoken Text (1993), Bread and Water and Indigo Island (both 1995).
Passenger Books recently published a new collection of essays, transcribed interviews, and articles and reviews related to The Big Book (1967), a walk-in book construction with eight-foot-tall pages, moving around a center spine. Knowles has continued her examination of books at various scales, from The Book of Bean (1983) to The Finger Book of Ancient Language, a tabletop book in Braille and other tactile languages (1987). The Boat Book (2014), commissioned by James Fuentes Gallery, appeared at Art Basel, Miami Beach.
In 1966, Knowles’ The House of Dust - part of James Tenney’s mainframe computer work in chance-based, or aleatory, art – was recognized at the time as the first computer poem on record and won a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1968.
Residencies included a Berlin DAAD (1983), guest professorship at Documenta X in Kassel, Germany (1997), Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study - Harvard University (2009). Major exhibitons include the Tate Museum in London (1968) featuring her event score Make a Salad which drew 3,000 people; The 3rd Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989 at the Guggenheim Museum (2009); and her 1969 work, The Identical Lunch, at MoMA (2011); as well as Frieze Art Fair and Serpentine Gallery, London, Milwaukee Art Museum, Chicago Arts Club, and at Walker Art Center, Open Field Event in 2014, Basel Art Fair, Miami (2014) featuring the commission, by James Fuentes, of her third live-in book The Boat Book. In 2015, she received the Francis Greenburger Award.
In May 2011, Knowles was invited to appear at the White House in An Evening of Poetry. She is represented by James Fuentes at 55 Delancey Street.