Allan Kaprow SP 12

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Artist Presentation (ALLAN KAPROW)



(1927-2006) American artist, born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, died in California Entered into the art world during a time of Abstract-Expressionism Started out as a painter

Influenced by:

  • Educational philosopher JOHN DEWEY, in particular his book Art as Experience (which covered, among other things, the idea of the art object a site for the dialogical experience of art,… "expressive objects")
  • JACKSON POLLOCK in action, his paintings were happenings, dance pieces at their conception.
  • JOHN CAGE, notable avant-garde composer and his teacher and collaborator at the New School for Social Research


  • Went to an arts high school
  • Studied art and philosophy at the graduate level, getting his MA in Art History from Columbia Univerity.
  • He taught at Rutgers, Pratt, SUNY at Stony Brook, Cal Arts and UCSD


  • First mentioned in an article he wrote about Jackson Pollock
  • Began as scripted events, but progressed towards more audience guided practice involving more quotidian activities and everyday objects
  • Described by Kaprow as "A game, an adventure, a number of activities engaged in by participants for the sake of playing."

From an interview on the Mail Artist website:
JH: Of course, you are best known as the person who coined the phrase "happenings." I just wonder how you felt the first time you heard the Supremes singing that song, "The Happening." Did you...

AK: I'd already repudiated the word, because many other people before that were using it. It was a catch word. You remember everybody went around going, "What's happening, baby?" Political uprisings on campuses and advertisements for butter and brassieres were all using the word "happening." I remember one ad showed a floating woman in outer space, a starry background, and the legend was, "I dreamt I was in a happening in my Maidenform brassiere." So by that time movies and the Supremes and all were in general usage around the world in ways that had nothing to do with my original sense, which became so foreign to me that I just dropped it. However, it's like your name, you can't drop it without somebody coming and picking it up and saying, "You dropped something mister."

  • Over 200 Happenings between 1959-1969
  • Some sort of middle ground between theatre (which rejected the Happenings in their basis in visual arts) and fine art (which Kaprow was generally dismissive of as an institution)
  • Art as experience, meaning determined by those who experience the piece, ephemeral nature without much documentation, Happenings only happen once (but are still sometimes recreated)
  • EIGHTEEN HAPPENINGS IN SIX PARTS (excerpts from this first Happening): 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.
  • Eventually, Kaprow lost interest in happenings because they failed to achieve a total break-down of the 'fourth wall' divide between audience and performance, moving on to Environments

YARD (1961)

  • The tire playground has an industrial smell, but there is a whimsy to it, either a hopeful or negative reflection on the direction industrialization is taking us.


  • The women (participants) licked jam off a car, which was Allan's orchestration, however their manner of licking and the lines they created were their own.

FLUIDS (1967)

  • Ice block structure built and let to melt
  • Revisited as OVERFLOW at the Getty in 2008, with the main difference being that it was broadcast via webcam, not requiring physical presence for consumption of the work

Contemporary Relevance

  • Influenced Performance Art as a whole, including FLUXUS art, Yoko Ono, etc.
  • Wrote seminal text for performance artists, "Assemblage, Environments, and Happenings", in 1966.
  • Paved the way for flashmobs.


A Gorgeously Precise Timeline
Art Story
MOCA Art as Life