Allan Kaprow

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Sara Kladky SP


• American artist. Born in 1927 in NJ, died in April, 2006. Wikipedia says he is a painter, which I find amusing, since he only made paintings very early in his career.

• Published over sixty essays, pamphlets, artist’s statements, and a book: Assemblages, Environments, and Happenings (1966)


Pollock and John Cage (with whom he studied from 1956 to 1958 at the New School for Social Research)

• Pollock made him view painting not as a product but as an action, which is a concept he pushed forward into art-as-event

• Cage showed him how to view change as an organizing/disorganizing element in art, which is a concept that translated into Kaprow’s reliance on participatory choice and accident to create meaning in his work


Worked to shift art away from specialized “zones” of art.

• Modernist practice was observation and engagement over artworks
• Experience as the medium
• Old forms are too external, and too remote to accurately/meaningfully model modern experience of life
• Modern society is a better model for experimental art than preceding art forms.
• “Forms” as mental imprints projected on the world- situational, operational, structural, open templates

Rejects one way flow of communication in art

• Wanted to created situations where the artist set up the equation, but the participants provided the terms and the system remained open
• Art as participatory experience

Happenings, Environments, and Activities

Inventor of the Happenings in the late fifties
• Kaprow himself conducted around 200 Happenings; the first was "Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts," which took place in October 1959
• Spectators moved, on cue, to different parts of the gallery to experience a woman squeezing oranges, artists painting and a concert played on toy instruments.
• Form in which all manner of materials are orchestrated in ways to approximate the spectacle of everyday life
• Motivation: to know the meaning of everyday life.
• Happenings are events that appear to go nowhere and make no particular literary point
• Form is open ended and fluid, since nothing obvious is sought after
• Meaning is determined by viewer reaction/interaction
• Happenings are ephemeral, based on chance, rarely recorded
• They started out as very scripted events, but they shifted over the years to the sort of activities we saw described in our reading.
• Activities were more intimate and less scripted—People in pairs, for example, would breathe into each other's mouths, or sweep the street, or go shopping.
• In some cases, Kaprow himself was the sole participant. For example, one later piece focused on the details of his daily tooth-brushing at home. He documented these private works in small booklets of instructions that read like Concrete poetry.
• Later Kaprow rejected Happenings as a form because they facilitate and reinforce the audience/performer divide

the "Un-Artist"

The “Un-Artist.”
• The goal of the modern artist is to avoid making “art” of any kind
• Non-art is experimental ground, anything that has not yet been accepted as “art” but that has caught the artist’s attention
• Life imitating life, art imitating life, attempting to get at the definition of both thorough their relationship
• Speaks about the comfort of “Art art” vs. the contradictions and precarious nature of nonart

Ironic/Complicated relationship with art institutions

• Simultaneously rejecting traditional art forms while being celebrated by traditional art forums like galleries and art museums.
• Also very close relationship with the world of art education, gets first teaching job in 1953 and teaches pretty consistently for the rest of his life.

Sources/Links of Interest

Wikipedia This is the Wikipedia page for Allan Kaprow

New York Times This is an article from the time of Kaprow's death, reflecting on his life.

Timeline A timeline of Kaprow's life, particularly interesting re: his relationships with art institutions.