Allan Kaprow (American, 1927–2006) was a performance artist and academic instructor known for his invention of the term Happening. He was born in Atlantic City, NJ, but moved to Tuscon, AZ for boarding school from 1933 to 1942. After showing an interest in drawing, Kaprow moved back to New York City where he began his education in the arts at the High School of Music and Art (now known as LaGuardia Arts). Kaprow received a BA at New York University in 1949 and an MA in Art History at Columbia University, where he studied Medieval and Modern Art under renowned art historian Meyer Schapiro. While in school, he also trained in painting under Hans Hofmann at the Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts. After graduating from Columbia in 1952, Kaprow co-founded Hansa Gallery, where he held his first solo show a year later. He was also the co-founder of Reuben Gallery and co-director of Judson Gallery, both in New York City. In the 1960s, these galleries became the sites for Kaprow’s Happenings and other hybrid art genres that began populating the art world. Before delving into a conceptual and philosophical approach to art, he created what he called “action collages,” which were inspired by Jackson Pollock and Abstract Expressionism. During this time, Kaprow became more interested in the act and theatricality of painting and creating. He began to produce sculptural installations he called Environments, which were assemblages of various sensory stimulants like light and sound; he ceased production after 1965.

For most of his career, Kaprow worked mainly on Happenings, which he documented in photographic publications. Happenings were an extension of Environments; they started out as ritualistic performances and by 1968 became more of an activity that all spectators could participate in. A Service for the Dead II (1962) is a good example of Kaprow’s early ritualistic Happenings, which was given a specific setting and script to follow. His later Happenings were spontaneous events like The Perfect Bed (1986); participants had to find their favorite bed and take it to an outdoor location. This particular Happening took place in various sites throughout Germany.

Apart from his work as a performance artist, Kaprow also studied musical composition under John Cage, and composed music for the Eileen Passloff Dance Company in 1958. He also spent a great deal of time teaching and lecturing at various institutes including Rutgers University, the Pratt Institute, State University of New York at Stoney Brook, the Boston Institute of Contemporary Art, and University of California in San Diego. In 1979, Kaprow received the John Simon Guggenheim Fellowship and the National Endowment for the Arts in both 1974 and 1979. His written works include his thesis Piet Mondrian: A Study of Seeing (1952), Assemblage, Environments, and Happenings (1966), and Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life (1993).

Timeline

1947–1948
Hans Hofmann School of Fine Arts, New York. Painting.
1945–1949
New York University, New York. BA in Philosophy and Art History.
1949–1950
New York University. Credit toward MA in Philosophy.
1950–1952
Columbia University, New York. MA in Art History.
1957–1952
New School for Social Research, New York. Music Composition with John Cage.

Exhibitions