He invented ‘happenings’: Allan Kaprow

Visual arts

A new gallery exhibition augurs revelations in the early painting and drawing practice of American artist Allan Kaprow (1927-2006).

Kaprow’s career as a painter began with his study with Hans Hofmann. He focused on the medium from the mid-1940s through the 1950s. During this period, he immersed himself in New York’s downtown scene and made a significant body of bold, expressive canvases that presaged his later experiments in space, activity, and performance.

‘Allan Kaprow: Paintings New York,’ at Hauser & Wirth in New York, includes New York paintings, action collages, and drawings, and illuminates how his embrace of chance, interaction, and process led to his seminal Happenings. His radical innovations in the realm of performance would shift the course of twentieth-century American art.

The exhibit opens in conjunction with the 60th anniversary of the artist’s landmark 1958 essay ‘The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,’ in which Kaprow first introduced the term ‘Happenings.’ 

Kaprow conducted a relentless, lifelong investigation into the relationship between everyday life and art. Even the most banal routines were rife with creative fodder: ‘The everyday world is the most astonishing inspiration conceivable. A walk down 14th Street is more amazing than any masterpiece of art.’ His daily observations and experiences as a city-dweller often became the foundations for his investigations into the possibilities of paint beyond the canvas, notably in his 1955 George Washington Bridge paintings. Kaprow conceived this body of work after studying industrial painters, suspended by ropes, coating the bridge’s beams in layers of red lead paint.

In 1956, Kaprow began to experiment with the use of quotidian materials – tin foil, newspaper, and hay – in a series of works he referred to as ‘action collages.’ Interested in the primacy of action, Kaprow created experimental collages at a frenetic pace. Wrought with incident, they are highly important precedents to Kaprow’s later turn to action-based performance.

Allan Kaprow
Seated Arabs in Striped Tent, 1954
Oil color on paper
53.3 x 44.7 x 3cm / 21 x 17 5/8 in (framed)
© Allan Kaprow Estate
Courtesy the Allan Kaprow Estate and Hauser & Wirth
text courtesy hauser & wirth

Allan Kaprow Paintings in New York | Hauser & Wirth | opens Feb 2

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