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Happenings Collage

Happenings

Started: 1958

Ended: Early 1970s

Happenings Timeline

Quotes

"My art is the result of a deeply personal, infinitely complex, and still essentially mysterious, exploration of experience. No words will ever touch it."
George Brecht
"Words, sounds, human beings in motion, painted constructions, electric lights, movies and slides - and perhaps in the future, smells - all in continuous space involving the spectator or audience; those are the ingredients. Several or all of them may be used in combination at any one time, which permits me a great range of possibilities."
Allan Kaprow
"It was a dissatisfaction with the limitations of pure abstract painting. Nobody knew what the work could or should look like. Each individual's freedom was encouraged. Since nobody knew what the new art should look like, each of us was free to invent our own solution."
George Segal

KEY ARTISTS

Allan KaprowAllan Kaprow
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John CageJohn Cage
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Carolee SchneemannCarolee Schneemann
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George SegalGeorge Segal
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George BrechtGeorge Brecht
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Robert WattsRobert Watts
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"The line between the Happening and daily life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible."

Allan Kaprow Signature

Synopsis

What began as a challenge to the category of "art" initiated by the Futurists and Dadaists in the 1910s and 1920s came to fruition with the performance art movements, one branch of which was referred to as Happenings. Happenings involved more than the detached observation of the viewer; the artist engaged with Happenings required the viewer to actively participate in each piece. There was not a definite or consistent style for Happenings, as they greatly varied in size and intricacy. However, all artists staging Happenings operated with the fundamental belief that art could be brought into the realm of everyday life. This turn toward performance was a reaction against the long-standing dominance of the technical aesthetics of Abstract Expressionism and was a new art form that grew out of the social changes occurring in the 1950s and 1960s.

Key Ideas

A main component of Happenings was the involvement of the viewer. Each instance a Happening occurred the viewer was used to add in an element of chance so, every time a piece was performed or exhibited it would never be the same as the previous time. Unlike preceding works of art which were, by definition, static, Happenings could evolve and provide a unique encounter for each individual who partook in the experience.
The concept of the ephemeral was important to Happenings, as the performance was a temporary experience, and, as such could not be exhibited in a museum in the traditional sense. The only artifacts remaining from original Happenings are photographs and oral histories. This was a challenge to the art that had previously been defined by the art object itself. Art was now defined by the action, activity, occasion, and/or experience that constituted the Happening, which was fundamentally fleeting and immaterial.
The purpose of Happenings was to confront and dismantle conventional views of the category of "art." These performances were so influential to the art world that they raised the specter of the "death" of painting.

Beginnings

Happenings Image

Happenings were inspired by the performances of Futurists who would enact short avant-garde plays and read their manifestoes and poetry on stage. The Futurist tendency to break the "fourth wall" and elicit audience participation became a central idea in the Happening: the absence of boundaries between the viewer and the artwork meant the artwork became defined by the action as opposed to the physical, or resulting, object.

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Cite this page

Content compiled and written by Tracy DiTolla

Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors

" Movement Overview and Analysis". [Internet]. . TheArtStory.org
Content compiled and written by Tracy DiTolla
Edited and published by The Art Story Contributors
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