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Allan Kaprow Photo

Allan Kaprow

American Performance Artist and Theoretician

Movements and Styles: Happenings, Performance Art

Born: August 23, 1927 - Atlantic City, New Jersey

Died: April 5, 2006 - Encinitas, California

Allan Kaprow Timeline

Important Art by Allan Kaprow

The below artworks are the most important by Allan Kaprow - that both overview the major creative periods, and highlight the greatest achievements by the artist.

Baby (1957)
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Baby (1957)

Artwork description & Analysis: Baby is an action collage, made from randomly assembled objects juxtaposed with cut-up pieces of Kaprow's own paintings. The only coherent and ordered element in the composition is in the formal arrangement of the elements into vertical strips. Kaprow produced the work in a frenzied, ritualistic process, influenced by the gestural quality of Pollock's action painting. Kaprow echoes the "combines" of Robert Rauschenberg in his synthesis of Pollock's technique with Cage's influence. Kaprow had moved toward an "unbound," three dimensional form, and was increasingly using found objects and everyday materials in an attempt to reconcile art with everyday experience, which would end up being his ultimate goal.

Paper, aluminum foil, carpet pieces, oil and synthetic paint, chalk, and rope on masonite plates - Museum Moderner Kunst Ludwig Vienna

Rearrangeable Panels (1957-9)
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Rearrangeable Panels (1957-9)

Artwork description & Analysis: This 1957 work represents a shift from the art object to the surrounding environment. Kaprow began to investigate the effect on space through the incorporation of three-dimensional and found objects into his work. Each time Rearrangeable Panels was exhibited, the curator or artist would be forced to make choices about how to configure the panels, foreshadowing Kaprow's use of audience participation. Kaprow challenges the notion of artistic authorship through this collaborative element of construction and in its unique response to each site in which it is placed.

Oil, leaves, plastic fruit, and mirror on canvas and wood, with light bulbs - Musee National d'art Moderne Centre Pompidou, Paris

18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959)
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18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959)

Artwork description & Analysis: In this happening, the public was invited to complete a number of tasks using instructions outlined in a score. Kaprow used music theory with new developments in electronic music, theatre, and dance, all combined within a pioneering structure that demanded participatory involvement. 18 Happenings in 6 Parts was performed at the Reuben Gallery in New York and is one of his earliest and most important Happenings, often cited as a turning point for performance art. Kaprow authorized a reinvention of this piece just a few weeks before his death and it was performed in Munich's Haus der Kunst in November of 2006.

A gallery divided into three rooms, semitransparent plastic sheets painted and collaged with references to Kaprow's earlier work, panels with words roughly painted, rows of plastic fruit, artist's hand-lettered instructions and programs, vintage posters, photographs, and videotapes - Photos and archives: Allan Kaprow Archives, the Getty Research Institute

Yard (1961)
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Yard (1961)

Artwork description & Analysis: Kaprow created Yard for Hauser & Wirth's opening New York show, Environment - Situations - Spaces. In this seminal work he recreated a junkyard, in the then Martha Jackson Gallery's backyard, creating an immersive environment with which the audience interacted. This work contained a high element of play, but within the boundaries Kaprow had prefixed. The piece illustrates sculpture's expansion in scale and the increasingly blurred boundaries between a "life like" and an "art like" art. In Kaprow's determination, there was no distinction between the viewer and the artwork; the viewer became part of the piece.

Rubber auto tyres, backyard of a Manhattan town house - Photos and archives: Allan Kaprow Archives, the Getty Research Institute

Words (1962)
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Words (1962)

Artwork description & Analysis: Words, exhibited at the Smolin Gallery in New York in 1962, takes the audience on a journey through two rooms, encouraging them to contribute to written and verbal components as they progress. Through this interactive environment, Kaprow denotes "urban text" referencing graffiti, billboards, newspapers, overheard conversations, and a lecture, engaging the viewer in a multi-sensory experience that literally brings "words" to life. The importance of this piece is based in the responsibility of the viewer to become part of the creative process beyond passive involvement.

2 small rooms, stencilled roles of canvas with hand letters, record players with words recorded by Kaprow, red and white light bulbs, dark blue smaller room - graffiti, hanging coloured chalk, strips torn from bed sheets, phonograph playing recorded whispers - Photos and archives: Allan Kaprow Archives, the Getty Research Institute

Fluids (1967)
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Fluids (1967)

Artwork description & Analysis: Fluids is one of Kaprow's most ambitious works. In it, he recruited groups of local residents to build huge ice structures in various locations in Pasadena, CA during a mid career retrospective. The original "score" for the piece was displayed on billboards around the city. The idea of collective action resulting in the inevitable melting of the ice was a comment on the obsolete nature of human labor - a "dystopian allegory of capitalist production and consumption," refuting the permanence of the art object. Documentation of the event includes photographs, film, the billboard score, the artist's notes and drawings, letters and press clippings. This seminal work was reinvented in 2005 and as Overflow by the LA Art Girls in 2008 as part of Allan Kaprow - Art as Life posthumous retrospective at the Geffen Contemporary's space in LA MOCA.

30 walls of ice - Photos and archives: Allan Kaprow Archives, the Getty Research Institute

Grandma's Boy (1967)
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Grandma's Boy (1967)

Artwork description & Analysis: This wall construction consists of various found elements with a mirror placed in the center. The name suggests a personal connection with Kaprow, though the photographs are of unknown figures. When catching their reflection, the viewer is unwittingly implicated in a participatory role, completing the piece. Grandma's Boy uses participation to give meaning to its form and illustrates Kaprow's move towards a more personal focus in his work.

mixed media assemblage - The Collection of the Newark Museum. Gift of Rhett and Robert Delford Brown

Trading Dirt (1983)
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Trading Dirt (1983)

Artwork description & Analysis: Kaprow produced the extended piece, Trading Dirt, when studying at the Zen Center of San Diego. He began by trading the soil in his garden for the "Buddhist dirt" of the center. This was then traded with various types of dirt collected by Kaprow. This sequence of events went on sporadically for three years, each exchange accompanied by an anecdote, recorded on film. Kaprow presents dirt as a metaphor that only gains meaning as it is exchanged or "traded." This occurred in 1983, long after Kaprow had replaced the Happening with the Activity. The work integrates storytelling with playful humour and illustrates a shift toward a more private, intimate participatory exchange. A film, Trading Dirt with Simon Rodia and Allan Kaprow by Rosie Lee Hooks and Paul S. Rogers, was created for the Allan Kaprow: Art as Life exhibition at MOCA Geffen Contemporary in Spring 2008 in addition to a reinvention of the piece.

Soil, dog dirt, anecdotes, video recording - Photos and archives: Allan Kaprow Archives, the Getty Research Institute



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Allan Kaprow Photo

Related Art and Artists

3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14)
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3 Standard Stoppages (1913-14)

Artist: Marcel Duchamp

Artwork description & Analysis: Art takes on a scientific guise in this intricate piece whose several component parts are neatly displayed alongside or slotted into a bespoke wooden case. To make this piece, which reads like a visual demonstration of the workings of chance, Duchamp dropped three threads, each exactly one meter long, from a height of one meter. He then carefully recorded the random outline of the fallen thread on canvas, glass and wood. Chance also dictated his choice of title: Duchamp apparently hit upon stoppages, French for the "invisible mending" of a garment, after walking past a shop sign advertising sewing supplies.

Mixed media - The Museum of Modern Art

Theater Piece No. 1 (1952)
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Theater Piece No. 1 (1952)

Artist: John Cage

Artwork description & Analysis: Theater Piece No. 1 was one of Cage's first large scale collaborative, multimedia performances, created and performed while Cage was teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Referred to by many as simply "The Event," the piece involved several simultaneous performance components - all orchestrated by Cage, where chance played a determining role in the course of the performance. Some of the components included in "The Event" were: poetry readings, music, dance, photographic slide projections, film, and the four panels of Robert Rauschenberg's White Paintings (1951) suspended from the ceiling in the shape of a cross. Cage sat on a step ladder and lectured about Buddhism, or said nothing, and M.C. Richards and Charles Olson read different poems from ladders, while Rauschenberg played Edith Piaf records, Merce Cunningham danced amidst the audience (chased by a barking dog), coffee was served by four boys dressed in white, and David Tudor played improvised notes on a prepared piano, fitted with pieces of felt and wood between the strings. Cage composed the piece such that each participant did whatever they chose during assigned intervals of time and within certain parameters, but the overarching principle of chance guided the course of events. The highly involved multimedia characteristics of No. 1 are a wonderful example of the Neo-Dada movement and its incorporation of the everyday into modern art. This early proto-happening prefigured later developments in modern art, particularly the increasing focus on the outside world, as evidenced in later movements like Fluxus, Minimalism, and Conceptualism, as well as performance art in general.

Multi-media performance and sound art

Anthropométrie sans titre (1961)
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Anthropométrie sans titre (1961)

Artist: Yves Klein

Artwork description & Analysis: After concentrating on the monochrome canvases, Klein made a new departure with his signature IKB color, using nude models as his brush. In the Anthropometries series, he covered nude females in blue paint and had them press, drag, and lay themselves across canvases to create bodily impressions. The piece was inspired in part by photographs of body-shaped burn-marks on the earth, which were caused by the atomic explosions at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Klein crafted this idea into a performance piece, hosting a formal event where guests observed the nude models executing the piece. Although the events could be at times comic and bizarre, the resulting pictures represent a fresh and vivid approach to the idea of figurative painting, and one darkly influenced by the threat of the Cold War.

Oil on canvas on paper, resin - Musee Cantini, Marseille,France

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