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 Allan Kaprow  (1927 - 2006)

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Lived/Active: New York/California/New Jersey      Known for: happenings, multi-media performance art

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Ad Code: 3
Allan Kaprow
from Auction House Records.
This is original if you want to believe it
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This biography from the Archives of AskART:
Born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, Allan Kaprow became a leading figure in Happenings and Performance Art, avant-garde art movements dating to the 1950s.  He was also an art educator whose teaching positions included Rutgers University, 1953 to 1956; Pratt Institute, 1960 to 1961; State University of New York at Stony Brook, 1961 to 1966; California Insititute of Arts beginning 1966 and the University of California at San Diego.

Kaprow's art career began with an early interest in Abstract Expressionism, much influenced by the drip methods of Jackson Pollack. ARTnews in 1958 had an article by Kaprow, "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock," in which he wrote that Jackson's canvases were so big and commanding that "they ceased to become paintings and became environments" where action dominated painting.  This description reflected Kaprow's own evolving theories expressed in the late 1950s in what he described as "action-collages", works that utilized found objects and traditionally non-fine art materials such as straw, twine, newspaper, twine and flashing lights.

His interest in Action Painting and Abstract Expressionism dated from 1947 and 1948 when he was a student at the Hans Hofmann School in New York City.

With some of his fellow students at the Hofmann School, Kaprow founded the Hansa Gallery, a cooperative on East 10th Street in Greenwich Village.  The work exhibited there was innovative and leading edge, and he developed a special interest in combining artwork with viewer involvement.  During this time, Kaprow also furthered his formal education, doing Post-Graduate work at New York University, and earning a Master's Degree in 1952 from Columbia University.  He also studied at Manhattan's New School for Social Research where avant-garde, radical composer John Cage was on the faculty and taught the integration of art presentation with real life and audiences.

Between 1956 and 1958, Kaprow studied with Cage who influenced Kaprow to incorporate unplanned experiences and irrational events into aesthetic expression.  In other words, disorganization was a valid theme for organized presentations.  In 1957-58, Kaprow began to create his own environmental works that demanded audience participation and "this integration of space, materials, time and people eventually led to the more experimental pieces." (geocities)

The performance-art term "Happening" was first used by Kaprow to describe his multi-media show called "18 Happenings in 6 Parts" at Reuben Gallery in 1959.  He explained his purpose as "an assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place". . . . an environmental artwork activated by performers and viewers." (Atkins 103).  n this first Happening, Kaprow created three rooms in the gallery space with clear plastic walls between. Visitors were moved on cue from room to room where the "happenings" included a girl squeezing oranges, an orchestra of toy instruments and an artist painting and lighting matches.

Interpretation was left to the viewer with no help from Kaprow and other participating artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns and Alfred Leslie.  Kaprow readily acknowledged these artists as well as Claes Oldenburg and Jim Dine as being fellow innovators.  Happenings were also linked to other theatrical artists in Europe such as Wolf Vostell and the Fluxus Group, and in Japan, the Gutai Group.

"18 Happenings in 6 Parts" was successful in terms of receiving public acclaim, and beginning the acceptance of "happenings" as legitimate art expressions.  Because of the Reuben Gallery event and subsequent "happenings", the goal of Kaprow and his associates was met of breaking down the traditional distinctions between art and life. Encouraged, Kaprow continued throughout the 1960s to stage and promote his new art form on the East Coast, especially in New York City.

"Among the events he staged at this time were Apple Shrine(1960, at the Judson Gallery, Greenwich Village, which he directed), A Service for the Dead (1962), Eat (1964, at the Old Ebling Brewery in the Bronx), and many others. In Coca Cola, Shirley Cannonball?(1960), a huge boot (of cardboard) kicked an oblate ball around a school gymnasium to the beat of a fife and drum, while in A Spring Happening (1961) the audience was terrorized by a power mower and an electric fan "attacking" them in a dark tunnel.  In Words (1962), spectators were invited to rearrange words painted on cardboard on the gallery walls.  For the Museum of Modern Art's "Hans Hofmann and His Students" travelling show, Kaprow created Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hofmann, which consisted of two furnished rooms that could be rearranged by visitors. Some older women, Kaprow noted, were appalled and began to houseclean." (

In the mid 1960s, Allan Kaprow moved to California where he became Associate Dean at the California Institute of Arts and then a teacher in the Visual Art Department of the University of California at San Diego.

A writer about happenings and performance art, Allan Kaprow has written more than one-hunded journal articles as well as books, and has also made films and videotapes. Because of his influence, the West Coast has had a flourishing movement of performance art linked to the first "happening" he created in New York City in 1956.

Peter Hastings Falk (Editor). Who Was Who in American Art
Robert Atkins, Art Speak (compiled from: Phaidon Dictionary of Twentieth Century Art; and Claude Marks' World Artists 1950-1980.)

Biography from Susan L. Halper Fine Art Inc:
Allan Kaprow was an American painter, assemblagist and pioneer in establishing the concepts of Performance Art.  He helped to develop the "Environment" and the "Happening" in the late 1950s and l960s as well as their theory. 

His "Happenings" some 200 of them evolved over the years.  Eventually Kaprow shifted his practice into what he called "Activities", intimately-scaled pieces for one or several players and devoted to the examination of everyday behaviors and habits in a way nearly indistinguishable from ordinary life.  Fluxus, Performance Art, and Installation Art were, in turn, influenced by his work.

Kaprow studied time-based composition with John Cage at his famous class at the New School of Social Research, painting with Hans Hofmann and art history with Meyer Schapiro.  Kaprow's work attempts to integrate art and life.  Through "Happenings," the separation between art, life, artist and audience become blurred.

He published extensively and was Professor Emeritus in the Visual Arts Department of the University of California, San Diego.  He is also known for the idea of "un-art" found in his essays, "Art Which Can't Be Art" and "The Education of the Un-Artists."

The above information is from

Note: The Museum of Modern Art held a Tribute to Allan Kaprow in which a special program on February 7, 2008 was dedicated to Kaprow whose events and narrative engaged the environment, the public and the fabric of everyday life.

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