Happening artist Allan Kaprow


Allan Kaprow center with beard in YARD (1967) at the Pasadena Art Museum (julian-wasser/getty)

I’m interested in exploring art forms outside painting and other two dimensional forms. I love doing painting, so I can feel that my art is action, not just thinking, and so involves my body and the world through observation and reflection. But still, I say I wish to address and heal the (my?) mind-body split. Performance, and installation, involves the body, and engagement with society and the world. These forms also comment on space outside the picture frame, and on time, since they take place ‘now’ but also change with time. So allowing suspense and revelation.


Allan Kaprow Fluids 1967 (julian-wasser)

Allan Kaprow is a said to be a pioneer of these arts. He was a painter and assemblage artist, who played an important part in the development of “Environment” and “Happenings” art of the 1950’s and 60’s. He went on to develop theory of performance arts, and staged around 200 Happenings, and engaged with the European Fluxus movement.

A story about Kaprow and Happenings is found on Tate Gallery, at the link below. I copied an extract below that. http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/performance-art-101-happening-allan-kaprow

There were precursors to Kaprow’s Happenings. See John Cage see Back Mountain College 1948 – http://www.tate.org.uk/context-comment/blogs/performance-art-101-black-mountain-college-john-cage-merce-cunningham, Also from this page also see Cabaret Voltaire – an Austrian artistic happening held in Vienna in 1916.

The artist who coined the term ‘happening’ was Allan Kaprow, an artist and lecturer who had studied painting with one of the key exponents of Abstract Expressionism, Hans Hofmann, in the 1940s. Unlike the influential critic Clement Greenberg, Kaprow was less interested in the art object (paintings) than in the way they were created: he was excited by the performative possibilities of painting.

Hans Namuth’s 1951 photos and film of Jackson Pollock – the James Dean of the art world – making his paintings illustrated a new direction for Kaprow, where the artist was within the work, while making the work. After Pollock’s death, Kaprow wrote an essay on the Legacy of Pollock:  exploring what he thought Pollock had meant for painting, art and life. He suggested that the art to come was one that incorporated everyday life, and everyday objects.

In 1959 he presented 18 Happenings in 6 Parts at the Reuben Gallery in New York – the first opportunity for a wider audience to experience this sort of event. He chose the word happening to suggest ‘something spontaneous, something that just happens to happen’.

Apart from the abstract impressionist influence, Happenings seem to me to have a resonance with the Surrealist movement as articulated by Andre Breton, in that art needs to be liberated from the special place (ivory tower, commodity) given to it in a capitalist society. Instead, art needs to be incorporated into everyday life, and incorporate everyday life into art. But I’m not sure if Kaprow shared the socialist ideals of Breton. Probably not, as he started work during the days of Macarthy’s anti communist crusade in USA. It seems he laughed off the opportunity to be come a formal member of Fluxus, the European movement including Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell. I need to look at this more, but Kaprow, as admirer of Pollock, may have been more concerned with artistic freedom and liberty, and the expression of ego, than with a socialist idea of collective action.

There’s also useful stuff on Wikipedia, including 2004 performances of 1960s pieces: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Allan_Kaprow


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