Artist of the Week – Allan Kaprow

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Allan Kaprow, born August 23rd 1927,   was an abstract-expressionist turned installation artist.   He was a pioneer in establishing the concepts of performance art.  In the late 1950s he helped develop the term “Happenings”.  Through these works he was able to change the definition of art.  To Kaprow art was no longer just a painting on the wall but could be anything at all, including, sound, movement and scent.  His pieces usually involved spaces he altered with sights, sounds and smells.  His aim was focused on the experience of the viewer.

A happening is a performace, event or situation that is meant to be considered art.  They can occur anywhere and often include active participation from the audience.  Through his “happenings”,  Kaprow was able to blur the lines between life, art, artist and the audience.  His aim was integrate life and art into his pieces.  The happenings engaged the audience to be a part of the art. The “Happening” allowed Kaprow to experiment with the concepts of space personally experienced by the viewer.   Happenings were unique experiences that were interactive with the viewer.  The reaction of the viewer to the happening made it an art piece.

Allen Kaprow once said,  “Life is much more interesting than art… The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.”  And I think this quote best describes his work.  So many of his pieces have the viewer’s participating in odd activities such as women licking jam off a car or taking your shoe for a walk.  Our participation and how it makes us feel in the process of the event is what makes it art.  Any person viewing a canvas painting walks away from the art piece with their own experience and meaning and the same is true for someone who attended a “happening.  Instead of just standing and considering a painting, the viewer was able to actively participate.  I feel like that holds a deeper meaning, a more personalized experience that cannot be replicated.

I like that Happenings dismantled the conventional views of art.  To me Kaprow truly did see life as art, no matter how menial or mundane something was, he saw the beauty in it and wanted to share this in his “happenings”.  He is taking things viewers would never consider and putting them in that situation.

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This piece stood out to me the most.  The activity was to take and old shoe, tie a string to it and drag it through the streets, patching it up occasionally with bandages.  I have no idea  what the participants may have taken away from this experience  but to me the shoe shoe represents the individual and no matter how old, worn, and dragged down by the path in life you you get, you need to be kind to yourself.

PENTAX Image
PENTAX Image

I also really enjoy his piece “meteorology”.  The activity was to walk towards the ocean on a rainy day with a large plastic sheet, carried above the participants heads.  At first it seems pointless but after looking at the image and thinking about it I thought about all the water we waste everyday, how we as humans are constantly taking from the earth.  I saw this as an activity to give back to the earth.  This piece also made me think about how our fast paced society does not appreciate the small things in life like a fresh rainfall.  To most us just a hindrance but in this activity its a way to appreciate the natural phenomenons that happen on earth.

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