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Artists Allan Kaprow

Allan Kaprow

American Performance Artist and Theoretician

Movement: Performance Art

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

Died: April 5, 2006 - Encinitas, California

Quotes

"Not only does art become life, but life refuses to be itself."
Allan Kaprow
"Once the task of the artist was to make good art; now it is to avoid making art of any kind."
Allan Kaprow
"I am convinced that painting is a bore. So is music and literature. What doesn't bore me is the total destruction of ideas that have any discipline. Instead of painting, move your arms; instead of music, make noise. I'm giving up painting and all the arts by doing everything and anything."
Allan Kaprow
"You reveal something and its oddness by removing it from its normal usage."
Allan Kaprow
"Experimental art is the one kind of art that can affirm and deny art at the same time. It's the one kind of art that can claim as value no value, ... the one caveat is that it must be called art."
Allan Kaprow
"There are two directions in which the legacy could go. One is to continue into and develop an action kind of painting, which was what he was doing, and the other was to take advantage of the action itself, implicit as a kind of dance ritual."
Kaprow writing on Pollock

"The integration of all elements -- environment, constructed sections, time, space, and people -- has been my main technical problem..."

Synopsis

Allan Kaprow was a pivotal figure in the shifting art world of the 1960s; his "happenings," a form of spontaneous, non-linear action, revolutionized the practice of performance art. While Kaprow began as a painter, by the mid 1950s his interest turned to the theoretical, based primarily on the shifting concepts of space as subjectively experienced by the viewer. Kaprow emerged from the group of artists known as the Rutgers Group, based out of Rutgers University where Kaprow taught art history and studio art. Kaprow was among the many artists and critics who focused on an intellectual and theorized view of art, rejecting the monumental nature of Abstract Expressionist works and instead focusing on the act of their production. In particular, his influential essay, "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock," (1956), called for an end to craftsmanship and permanence in art and instead demanded that artists shift their attention to "non-concrete," or ephemperal, modes of production.

Key Ideas

Kaprow's happenings changed the definition of the art object. "Art" was no longer an object to be viewed hanging on a wall or set on a pedestal; rather, it could now be anything at all, including movement, sound, and even scent. Kaprow stated, "The everyday world is the most astonishing inspiration conceivable. A walk down 14th Street is more amazing than any masterpiece of art."
Kaprow was very clear that his works were connected with art and not theater. He stressed that his happenings were in the same category as the action painting of Abstract Expressionists and not with scripted scenes involving actors playing parts. Kaprow's pieces involved spaces he physically altered, with sights and sounds as deliberately composed as any canvas by Pollock or Rothko.
Kaprow rebelled against the prescriptions of Clement Greenberg, both in his art and in his writings: formal aesthetics, Kaprow believed, were no longer relevant when the art left the canvas. Kaprow's work was based on an "aesthetic of regular experience," a transient and momentary experience felt by the viewer being as significant as a painting on canvas.

Most Important Art

Yard (1961)
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
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Biography

Childhood

Allan Kaprow was born in 1927 in New Jersey. During his early years, he experienced chronic illness that forced him to move from New York to Tuscon, Arizona where he spent the rest of his childhood. There, separated from his Jewish, middle class roots, he experienced life on a ranch, giving him a sense of the communal activity that came to dominate his later artistic career. Ill and often bed-bound, Kaprow began to develop an interest in arts and crafts, and eventually returned to New York to attend New York University and study Philosophy and Art History.

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Early Training

Allan Kaprow Biography

Allan Kaprow's early artistic career was as an Abstract Expressionists; he trained at The New York School under Hans Hoffman from 1947-48. Developing a dynamic and expressive style, Kaprow had absorbed the action painting techniques of Pollock and the others, finding meaning in the physical ("action") relationship between the artist and his work. Moving from these studies to a major in Art History and Philosophy (with an M.A. thesis on Mondrian) under eminent historian and critic Meyer Schapiro, Kaprow began to construct action collages and assemblages with found objects. The references to everyday experience become an increasing interest to Kaprow, reviving the earlier motives of Dada and Futurist movements. Philosopher John Dewey's seminal work, "Art and Life" had a profound influence on Kaprow, leading him to experiment with notions of scale and with the incorporation of aural elements. The works Kaprow was producing at this time expanded to form environments - a more direct, sensory experience for the audience. In 1958, Kaprow wrote "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock," an insightful and influential essay where Kaprow pronounced Pollock as responsible for pioneering the expansion of art beyond the frame and into the realm of human experience. This essay also marked the start of Kaprow's prolific art-writing career.

Mature Period

Allan Kaprow Image

Since 1955, Kaprow and other young artists from the Hoffman school had established and exhibited at the Hansa Gallery, an emerging institution on the New York art scene, where eventually Kaprow's notorious performative experiments took place. At the same time, Kaprow was teaching art history at Rutgers and attending classes of experimental musician, John Cage, along with George Brecht, Al Hansen, and La Monte Young. These young artists were becoming increasingly critical of the Abstract Expressionists for their neglect of experiential reference in their work. At this point, Kaprow began to adopt new methods of audience participation, incorporating performative and aural elements to create events experienced in real time. In this way Kaprow eliminated the subjects, structures, and narratives of conventional art practice. His practice became known as "the happening", a revolutionary element of the New York avant-garde of the 1960s. The happening, while spontaneous, has certain particularities. It could be performed only once, but in a range of guises: to a small audience in a loft or cellar, or as a larger scale public event on the street. The materials used were often perishable, giving the performance an ephemeral quality that denounced traditional preservation of the art object. Kaprow's ideas were not unique - the Fluxus movement had been formed by his contemporaries and the Gutai Group and artist Yves Klein were working internationally with a similar aim, as was John Cage. Kaprow was distinct in his choice to work alone, and in the substantial body of writing emerging around his events. While Cage's motives were to relinquish artistic authority to his participants, Kaprow delivered his vision through viewer involvement. He was notable for his relentless pursuit of lowbrow subject matter - the everyday processes, such as brushing one's teeth - and increasingly, the audience was eliminated, involving only participants. Throughout the 1960's, the artist led happenings in sites of industry and commerce, in a further shift from the traditional art context.

Late Period and Photo

By the end of the 1960s, Kaprow began to disassociate himself from the term happening, which he saw as being exploited by the mainstream media. He started to follow a more private, introspective path, influenced by his studies in Zen Buddhism. He concentrated on creating intimate events he termed Activities. Working mainly with individuals or couples, these were now accompanied with an instruction booklet (gradually, Kaprow was eliminating the need for his presence in his work) and took place in increasingly domestic settings. Conversely, his acclaimed reputation had led to Kaprow retrospectives in galleries around the world. These exhibitions confronted the problem of displaying a vast body of work that fundamentally rejects the art environment and for which there is no lasting physical trace. As a solution to the lack of art object, the exhibitions were constructed from Kaprow's writing, archival photographs, the recollections of his participants, and the reinventions of his most important happenings. In 2001, he published his only book The Blurring of Art and Life, a compilation of the essays he had produced over the last five decades. Kaprow continued to teach until 1993 and was working on a major retrospective when he died in 2006.

Legacy

Allan Kaprow Portrait

Kaprow presents a contradictory portrait; an artist seeking the direct and ephemeral relations between art, the artist, and the audience achieved in the "here and now" of everyday life, and a deep and prolific thinker, teacher and writer who meticulously planned and theorized every instantiation of his work. His lifelong quest to "unart" art practice had a profound and lasting impact on his contemporaries and on artists since, paving the way for Pop art, Conceptual art, Minimalism and new genre public art of subsequent decades. The embodied experience of the environment and the performative and real-time elements of happenings foreshadowed the Installation and Performance art common in contemporary practice, paving the way for artists like Vito Acconci, Suzanne Lacy, and Marina Abramovic.

Influences and Connections

Influences on artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Influenced by artist

Artists, Friends, Movements

Allan Kaprow
Interactive chart with Allan Kaprow's main influences, and the people and ideas that the artist influenced in turn.
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Artists

Marcel Duchamp
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Piet Mondrian
Yves Klein
Jackson Pollock

Friends

Hans Hofmann
Meyer Schapiro
John Cage

Movements

Dada
Futurism
Fluxus
Abstract Expressionism
Allan Kaprow
Allan Kaprow
Years Worked: 1927 - 2006

Artists

Dick Higgins
Yoko Ono
Claes Oldenburg
Roy Lichtenstein
Jim Dine

Friends

Willem de Kooning
George Segal

Movements

Pop Art
Minimalism
Conceptual Art
Installation Art
Performance Art

Original content written by Sarah Jenkins

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

. [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org website. Available from:
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Useful Resources on Allan Kaprow

Books
Websites
Articles
Videos
More
The books and articles below constitute a bibliography of the sources used in the writing this page. These also suggest some accessible resources for further research, especially ones that can be found and purchased via the internet.
biography
Experiments in the Everyday: Allan Kaprow and Robert Watts - Events, Objects, Documents

By Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Judith F. Rodenbeck

Childsplay: The Art of Allan Kaprow

By Jeff Kelley

Allan Kaprow: Art as Life

By Alex Potts

18 Happenings in 6 Parts

By Andre Lepeke, Eva Meyer-Hermann, Stephanie Rosenthal

Alan Kaprow, the Happener

By Robert C. Morgan, Wolf Kahn and Irving Sandler
The Brooklyn Rail
May 2006

Framed Space: Allan Kaprow and the Spread of Painting

By William Kaizen, Grey Room
Fall 2003

Allan Kaprow

By Oliver Debroise
Frieze Magazine
September 2008

Allan Kaprow, Creator of Artistic "Happenings" Dies at 78

By Holland Carter
New York Times
April 10, 2006

Happenings
Happenings
Happenings
The term "happening" was coined by artist Allan Kaprow in 1957 to decribe a series of multi-media artworks on display in a single locale. In general, a happening is an art event, often staged or pre-scripted, that requires active participation from an audience to come to full fruition. This relatively new form of artistic media could be called participatory.
ArtStory: Happenings
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance Art
Performance is a genre in which art is presented "live," usually by the artist but sometimes with collaborators or performers. It has had a role in avant-garde art throughout the twentieth century, playing an important part in anarchic movements such as Futurism and Dada. It particularly flourished in the 1960s, when Performance artists became preoccupied with the body, but it continues to be an important aspect of art practice.
ArtStory: Performance Art
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock
Jackson Pollock was the most well-known Abstract Expressionist and the key example of Action Painting. His work ranges from Jungian scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract "drip paintings" of his later career.
ArtStory: Jackson Pollock
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
Abstract Expressionism
A tendency among New York painters of the late 1940s and '50s, all of whom were committed to an expressive art of profound emotion and universal themes. The movement embraced the gestural abstraction of Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock, and the color field painting of Mark Rothko and others. It blended elements of Surrealism and abstract art in an effort to create a new style fitted to the postwar mood of anxiety and trauma.
ArtStory: Abstract Expressionism
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
Hans Hofmann
German-born American painter, art teacher and theorist. Hofmann matured as an artist in 1904-14 in Paris, where he met many of the greatest artists of that time. After he emigrated to America in the early 1930s, he enjoyed a prominent career as a teacher, powerfully influencing many Abstract Expressionists with his understanding of European modernism.
ArtStory: Hans Hofmann
Action Painting
Action Painting
Action Painting
Action Painting was a term coined by art critic Harold Rosenberg to refer to the gestural mode of Abstract Expressionism, characterized by drips, flung paint, and rapid, spontaneous strokes. In this view the painting is a record of the artist's activities over time.
ArtStory: Action Painting
Meyer Schapiro
Meyer Schapiro
Meyer Schapiro
Meyer Schapiro was an important art historian and theorist who wrote on the social and political dimensions of art and its historiography. He made seminal contributions to the fields of Romanesque and medieval art as well as to theories of modernism, abstraction, and Abstract Expressionism.
ArtStory: Meyer Schapiro
Dada
Dada
Dada
Dada was an artistic and literary movement that emerged in 1916. It arose in reaction to World War I, and the nationalism and rationalism that many thought had led to the War. Influenced by several avant-gardes - Cubism, Futurism, Constructivism, and Expressionism - its output was wildly diverse, ranging from performance art to poetry, photography, sculpture, painting and collage. Emerging first in Zurich, it spread to cities including Berlin, Hanover, Paris, New York and Cologne.
ArtStory: Dada
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism
Futurism was the most influential Italian avant-garde movement of the twentieth century. Dedicated to the modern age, it celebrated speed, movement, machinery and violence. At first influenced by Neo-Impressionism, and later by Cubism, some of its members were also drawn to mass culture and nontraditional forms of art.
ArtStory: Futurism
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage
John Cage was an American composer and conceptual artist who incorporated chance, silence, and environmental effects into his performances. An important art theorist, he influenced choreographers, musicians, and the Fluxus artists of the 1970s.
ArtStory: John Cage
George Brecht
George Brecht
George Brecht
George Brecht was an American conceptual artist and avant-garde composer as well as a professional chemist, who worked as a consultant for companies including Pfizer, Johnson and Johnson, and Mobil Oil. He was a key member of, and influence on, Fluxus.
George Brecht
Al Hansen
Al Hansen
Al Hansen
Al Hansen was a Norwegian-American artist associated with the Fluxus movement. best known for his staged Happenings and performance pieces, Hansen's most well known work was the Yoko Ono Piano Drop, in which he dropped a piano off a five-story building. Hansen was also a close friend to and colleague of such artists as John Cage, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono and Andy Warhol.
Al Hansen
La Monte Young
La Monte Young
La Monte Young
La Monte Young is an American musical composer and a pioneer of the mediums known as drone music and musical minimalism, wherein compositions are characterized by highly complex and unusual instrumentation, and are often several hours in length. Young is also often associated with John Cage and other Fluxus artists. His best known piece is The Well Tuned Piano (1964), a sprawling and minimalist work of themed improvisation performed on a single piano.
La Monte Young
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus
Fluxus was an international network of "intermedia" artists of the 1960s who worked in fields ranging from music to performance to the visual arts. Taking their name from the Latin "to flow," Fluxus artists adopted an often anarchic and satirical approach to conventional forms of art, and their ideas paved the way for Conceptual art.
ArtStory: Fluxus
Gutai
Gutai
Gutai
The Gutai was a Japanese artistic movement that was founded by Jiro Yoshihara in 1954. The group was preoccupied with beauty that is born from things that are damaged or decayed. Members believed the destructive process revealed the inner life of materials and objects. Works often manifested in the form of installations and inspired the later Fluxus movement.
Gutai
Yves Klein
Yves Klein
Yves Klein
Yves Klein was a French Neo-Dadaist artist who produced a series of monochrome works in 1957. He is credited with creating an entirely new color of blue, eventually called International Klein Blue. He employed this color in his paintings made by covering naked bodies with pigment and using them as "paintbrushes," an important antecedent to later performance art.
ArtStory: Yves Klein
Pop Art
Pop Art
Pop Art
British artists of the 1950s were the first to make popular culture the dominant subject of their art, and this idea became an international phenomenon in the 1960s. But the Pop art movement is most associated with New York, and artists such as Andy Warhol, who broke with the private concerns of the Abstract Expressionists, and turned to themes which touched on public life and mass society.
ArtStory: Pop Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual Art
Conceptual art describes an influential movement that first emerged in the mid-1960s and prized ideas over the formal or visual components of traditional works of art. The artists often challenged old concepts such as beauty and quality; they also questioned the conventional means by which the public consumed art; and they rejected the conventional art object in favor of diverse mediums, ranging from maps and diagrams to texts and videos.
ArtStory: Conceptual Art
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism
Minimalism emerged as a movement in New York in the 1960s, its leading figures creating objects which blurred the boundaries between painting and sculpture, and were characterized by unitary, geometric forms and industrial materials. Emphasizing cool anonymity over the passionate expression of the previous generation of painters, the Minimalists attempted to avoid metaphorical associations, symbolism, and suggestions of spiritual transcendence.
ArtStory: Minimalism
Vito Acconci
Vito Acconci
Vito Acconci
Vito Acconci is an American performance/installation artist who began performing in the late 1960s. More recently, he has shifted his focus to architecture and landscape design, particularly works that merge indoor and outdoor space.
Vito Acconci
Suzanne Lacy
Suzanne Lacy
Suzanne Lacy
Suzanne Lacy is an American performance artist and social activist, and she is well known for combining these elements in her work, often on a large scale involving hundreds of participants. Among her best known works is The Crystal Quilt (1987), in which 430 elderly women relayed personal anecdotes while they collectively created an 82 sf tableau. Lacy is also a founding faculty member of Cal State University, Monterey Bay, and the former arts commissioner for Oakland, CA.
Suzanne Lacy
Marina Abramovic
Marina Abramovic
Marina Abramovic
Marina Abramovic's is one of the key artists in the performance art movement. Her work often involves putting herself in grave danger and performing lengthy, harmful routines that result in her being cut or burnt, or enduring some privation.
ArtStory: Marina Abramovic
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
Marcel Duchamp
The French artist Marcel Duchamp was an instrumental figure in the avant-garde art worlds of Paris and New York. Moving through Dada, Surrealism, readymades, sculpture, and installation, his work involves conceptual play and an implicit attack on bourgeois art sensibilities.
ArtStory: Marcel Duchamp
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was an Italian poet and editor, the founder of the Futurist movement and a fascist ideologue. He was the author of the Futurist Manifesto, which he wrote in 1908. In early 1918 he founded the Futurist Political Party.
Filippo Tommaso Marinetti
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian
Piet Mondrian, a founding member of the De Stijl movement, was a modern Dutch artist who used grids, perpendicular lines, and the three primary colors in what he deemed Neo-plasticism.
ArtStory: Piet Mondrian
Dick Higgins
Dick Higgins
Dick Higgins
Dick Higgins was a British-American Fluxus artist whose mediums included poetry, essays, music composition and printing. Higgins famously coined the word "intermedia," in reference to his interdisciplinary approach to this work. Higgins is best known for his avant-garde Danger Music composition.
Dick Higgins
Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono
Yoko Ono is a Japanese artist, musician, author, and peace activist, known for her work in avant-garde art, music and filmmaking as well as her marriage to John Lennon. Ono brought feminism to the forefront through her music, and is also considered a pioneer and major influence of the 1970s new wave genre.
Yoko Ono
Claes Oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg
Claes Oldenburg
The Swedish-American artist and architect Claes Oldenburg, an early figure in New York happenings and Pop art, is best known for his floppy sculptures and larger-than-life public works of consumer goods, musical instruments, and everyday objects.
Claes Oldenburg
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein
Roy Lichtenstein was an American painter and a pioneer of the Pop art movement. His signature reproductions of comic book imagery eventually redefined how the art world viewed high vs. lowbrow art. Lichtenstein employed a unique form of painting called the Benday dot technique, in which small, closely-knit dots of paint were applied to form a much larger image.
ArtStory: Roy Lichtenstein
Jim Dine
Jim Dine
Jim Dine
Jim Dine is an American painter commonly associated with the Neo-Dada and Pop art movements. In addition to showing alongside such Pop icons as Warhol, Lichtenstein and Ruscha, Dine is also well known for collaborating with Allan Kaprow, Claes Oldenburg and John Cage on a series of "happenings" in 1957, now considered a pioneering step for the medium.
Jim Dine
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning
Willem de Kooning, a Dutch immigrant to New York, was one of the foremost Abstract Expressionist painters. His abstract compositions drew on Surrealist and figurative traditions, and typified the expressionistic 'gestural' style of the New York School.
ArtStory: Willem de Kooning
George Segal
George Segal
George Segal
American sculptor and painter George Segal was most known for his life-size plaster cast figures, often in monochromatic white. He worked with artists such as John Cage and Allan Kaprow at Rutgers University in the 1950s and 60s; Kaprow's famous "happenings" performances first took place on Segal's farm in New Jersey.
George Segal
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation Art
Installation art is a genre of contemporary art-making in which two- and three-dimensional materials are used to transform a particular site. Installations may include sculptural, found, sound-based, and performance elements, and can be permanent or ephemeral.
Installation Art