Allan Kaprow (August 23, 1927 - April 5, 2006) helped to develop the "Environment" and "Happening" in the late 1950s and 1960s, as well as their theory. His Happenings - some 200 of them - evolved over the years, and attempted to integrate art and life by blurring the separation between life and art, and artist and audience. He has published extensively and was Professor Emeritus in the Visual Arts Department of the University of California, San Diego. Kaprow is also known for the idea of "un-art", found in his essay "Art Which Can't Be Art".
"Happenings are notoriously difficult to describe, in part
because each was a unique event shaped by the actions of the audience
that participated on any given performance. Simply put, Happenings,
such as Household from 1964, were held in physical environments
– loft spaces, abandoned factories, buses, parks, etc. – and brought
people, objects, and events in surprising juxtaposition to one another.
Kaprow views art as a vehicle for expanding our awareness of life by
prompting unexpected, provocative interactions. For Kaprow, art is a
continual work-in-progress, with an unfolding narrative that is
realized through the active participation of the audience." (from
Following the late 1950s, a happening was a performance, event or situation meant to be considered as art. Happenings could take place anywhere, were often multi-disciplinary, often lacked a narrative and frequently sought to involve the audience in some way. Key elements of happenings were planned, but artists would sometimes retain room for improvisation.
first coined the term Happening in the Spring of 1957 at an art picnic
at George Segal's farm to describe the art pieces that were going on.
‘Happening’ first appeared in print in the Winter 1958 issue of the
Rutgers University undergraduate literary magazine, ‘’Anthologist’’.
The form was imitated and the term was adopted by artists across the
U.S., Germany, and Japan. Jack Kerouac referred to Kaprow as “the
Happenings man,” and an ad showing a woman floating in outer space
declared, “I dreamt I was in a happening in my Maidenform brassiere.”
Allan Kaprow’s piece 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959) is commonly
cited as the first happening, although the first happening is sometimes
considered to have been a 1952 performance of Theater Piece No. 1 at
Black Mountain College by John Cage, who was a teacher of Kaprow in the
mid-1950s. Accounts of exactly what this performance involved differ,
but most agree that Cage recited poetry and read lectures, M. C.
Richards read some of her poetry, Robert Rauschenberg showed some of
his paintings, David Tudor performed on a prepared piano and Merce
Cunningham danced. All these things took place at the same time, and
among the audience rather than on a stage. Happenings flourished in New
York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Key contributors to the
form included Carolee Schneemann, Red Grooms, Robert Whitman, Jim Dine,
Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg.
In Britain, the first happenings were organised in Liverpool by the
poet and painter Adrian Henri. However, the most important event was
the Albert Hall “Poetry Incarnation” on June 11, 1965, when an audience
of 7,000 people witnessed and participated in performances by some of
the leading avant-garde young British and American poets of the day
(see British Poetry Revival and Poetry of the United States). One of
the participants, Jeff Nuttall, went on to organise a number of further
happenings, often working with his friend Bob Cobbing, sound poet and
Belgium, the first happenings were organised around 1965–1968 in
Antwerp, Brussels and Ostend by artists Hugo Heyrman and Panamarenko.
In Australia, the Yellow House Artist Collective in Sydney housed 24-hour happenings throughout the early 1970s.
Behind the Iron Curtain, in Poland, in the 2nd half of 1980's, a student based happening movement Orange Alternative founded by Major Waldemar Fydrych became known for its much attended happenings (over 10 thousand participants at one time) aimed against the General Jaruzelski military regime and the fear blocking the Polish society ever since the Martial Law was imposed in December of 1980.