The American Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) coined the term Happenings at the end of the 1950s. This was a time in which music was characterized by silence and sounds, painting and sculpture by the use of industrial and waste materials and dance by movements that were no longer graceful, but grounded in the observation of human actions. Allan Kaprow was opened to influences from many areas. He studied with the art historian Meyer Schapiro, the composer John Cage and the painter Hans Hofmann. He imparted information on his own work, as well as that of other artists, in numerous publications and in his influential essay, "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock," in which he termed Pollock an important forerunner.
Allan Kaprow became well known in 1959 with his "18 Happenings in 6 Parts." With this event, he opened the Reuben Gallery in New York, which he helped to establish. "18 Happenings in 6 Parts" was performed on the 4th and 6th - 10th of October, on a total of six evenings. Allan Kaprow divided the gallery in several parts: the installation took place in three rooms that were divided from one another by sheets of plastic mounted on wooden frames. Members of the audience received a program and three cards upon entering the gallery, telling them in which room they should appear and when.
With "18 Happenings in 6 Parts" Kaprow completed an important part of his work: active participation rather than passive observation was the desired effect. Only active participants were to be part of a Happening. When Allan Kaprow conducted "Scores," the story lines for the participants, he often requested that there should be no spectators. Such was the case in the performance "Flick" in 1967: "Those of you who do not wish to participate are respectfully asked not to come to merely watch. It would be unfair to the others." In "Flick" the participants were divided into four groups on four deserted streets. At fifteen minutes before midnight they blew shrill sounds out of whistles, lit up matchbooks and dispersed them in different directions on their way home.
For Allan Kaprow art did not exist separately from everyday life; he wished, rather, to bring these two together. In the early 1990s the installation and performance artist, Paul McCarthy, asked him to participate in a gallery show with him. Allan Kaprow agreed and his contribution consisted of having the gallery owner water the sidewalk every morning before the gallery opened. It suited Allan Kaprow that this Happening was barely perceivable as such, for this corresponded to his idea that art was one with life and everyday day events - "everything is art, art is everything."
The Transformation: The Agreement for New Performances
Impermanence is a basic quality of Happenings and, for this reason, it is not surprising that only few traces of them remain: photographs, film materials, the Scores and some first-hand descriptions. Allan Kaprow was interested in neither the museumilization of his work nor in a retrospective in the classical sense. He believed that a museum should not be a graveyard for art but rather an Agency for Action.
The disappearance of Happenings and the voids in their documentation present a challenge for the writers of art history. Allan Kaprow, who died in the spring of 2006, remains an important figure for contemporary performance artists, making such empty spaces even more tangible. For an exhibition house the question arises of how best to exhibit art forms that, because of their nature, are unable to be presented as art objects in the traditional sense. The exhibition in the Haus der Kunst does justice to such works by emphasizing not the early collages and paintings, but rather by placing Allan Kaprow's transitory performance work at center stage.
In the past year, in conversations with the curators Stephanie Rosenthal and Eva Meyer-Hermann, Allan Kaprow decided to give up his traditional artistic responsibility and, in so doing, to introduce a turning point in his artistic legacy. Since the early 1960s it had been his wish to perform each Happening just once. After this point, however, he saw his artistic task no longer to create the Happenings himself, but to help bring together those who would be interested in creating Reinventions of his original ones. He wished for three principles to be respected: site-specificity, impermanence and doubt in art. If it had been about strict reconstructions up to then, it was now about variation and interpretation.
The Exhibition in the Haus der Kunst
The exhibition is composed of two parts that are connected to one another: one part is dedicated to mediation, the other to action. Documentation on the actions will be part of the exhibition.
Museum as Mediation
Early paintings, collages, as well as the work "Rearrangeable Panel" (nine wood panels that stand freely arranged in a room) demonstrate how Allan Kaprow explored the various categories of space early on: private space (the studio or dwelling) and the public space (subway stations and bridges). This work illustrates the steps that lead from the two-dimensional space to the three-dimensional and the cross over to the Happening as an ephemeral art form that no longer required a context but was grounded in everyday life.
The original editions of the Scores and activities books are exhibited in glazed tables and their chronological order illustrates their formal development. In the beginning the Scores were similar to musical scores, not unlike to those of John Cage. Early on, however, the note system disappeared and texts moved to the forefront. Here Allan Kaprow's execution is so detailed and precise that it borders on severity. Over the course of time they become, however, concentrated texts that are comparable to concrete poetry, with their execution allowing for more leeway. Following a phase in which Allan Kaprow expands on his activity instructions with interpretations, he finds his way back to a style that is as poetic as it is modest.
Mediations and action are interwoven using film and photographic documentation. The walls of the central middle hall are transformed into an expandable library, in which not only videos and photographs of earlier performances of Happenings are shown, but also images of the newer versions that take place during the exhibition.
Museum as Agency for Action
The Haus der Kunst becomes the first cultural institution that gained the support of this artist to stage new versions of his larger Happenings such as "Household," "Out" and "Birds," as well as several versions of smaller Happenings that are staged by individuals or small groups of participants. The Happenings take place in the Haus der Kunst, in public outdoor space and in private spaces. Each new version will be documented with photographs, video recordings and first-hand reports. It is possible to sign up for the Happenings at www.kaprow.org.
New versions of the Environments "Push and Pull," "Words" and "Stockroom" will be created by the artists Stefan Römer, Magdalena Jetelová, Hermann Pitz and their students at the Münchner Akademie. Allan Kaprow integrated his art into his everyday life through his teaching activities and his Happenings were primarily created with the students he taught. The exhibition does justice to the central importance Allan Kaprow attached to mediation and teaching in part through such invitations. The artist defined Environments as changeable installations and it was only at the beginning of his career, in the early 1960s, that Allan Kaprow created them. Later he spoke of Activities because he understood and used his surroundings and the world as a whole as an Environment.
The middle hall, which houses the Environments, is freely accessible and thus functions as a transition space between the public space outside and the exhibition spaces located in the eastern wing, which require an admission ticket. This transition space, as well as the presentation of certain Happenings outside the Haus der Kunst, meets with the artist's wish not to limit art to locations dedicated solely to art activities.