"Oedipal-just for fun"
Allan Kaprow and Art History
In March 1958 Allan Kaprow exhibited a work in New York at the Hansa Gallery, an artists' cooperative that he had cofounded. The work was untitled at the time. Later he listed it in his chronology of works as Untitled Environment.1 A handful of color slides in Kaprow's archive and some black-and-white photographs, a few of which he published later on, give no more than a vague impression of the exhibition in spring 1958. These pictures show long swaths of translucent plastic with markings in red, blue, and black paint; hazily visible beyond them are the blurred outlines of exhibition-goers (see figure 4). Besides the strips of plastic, there were also wires, lengths of cloth, carbon paper, and tinfoil suspended in the gallery space. It would be impossible to interpret these images if not for contemporaneous reports by critics. Park Tylor, who reviewed the exhibition for Art News, the leading art journal at the time, commented that "as one moved at leisure among the even rows, one had phantasmal glimpses of other visitors doing the same." Moreover, as he put it, the visitor felt "abstracted from the ordinary world to one where musique is as concret as abstract art."2 Tapes recorded by Kaprow were played through speakers, transmitting the chirping, buzzing, and grating noises made by the Japanese toys that were all the rage in those days. Newsweek also reported favorably on the event. Its reviewer made a particular point about the way that the work enveloped the visitor-it reminded him of Cinerama. In some amusement, he also reported that one "gallery goer" found the sounds of the toys "so penetrating that he clapped his hands over his ears and ran from the room."3
In November 1958, Kaprow showed another untitled work in the same gallery, which he also later listed as Untitled Environment. To judge by the description of the work by the art historian Jeff Kelley in his monograph Childsplay, based on conversations with Kaprow, this was a "somewhat intensified environment" with "a 'forest' of raffia strips hanging from ceiling-level netting along with swarms of tiny blinking Christmas lights and a wall of broken mirrors framed by two rows of spotlights aimed at the spectator."4 Geoffrey Hendricks, a colleague of Kaprow's on the faculty of Rutgers University, saw this exhibition and remembered it being divided into two parts.5 In this second exhibition, he structured the space not only in terms of sight, sound, and touch but also with pleasant and unpleasant smells. According to Kelley, "an oscillating electric fan circulated chemical odors."6 However, these mingled with one another and left a "nasty smell" in the space, as the Hansa Gallery's director, Richard Bellamy, recounted in an interview.7 And Fairfield Porter, who was very critical of the exhibition in Art News, wrote ironically of a "repellent smell of the particular disinfectant that osteopaths favor."8
Kaprow must have come to the conclusion that exhibition-goers needed guidance of some kind, so he organized twice-daily events when they could listen to the noise. Because these were too close to being a performance-"a concert, in effect"-he later tried a "random distribution of mechanical noise and taped sound."9 The second exhibition was accompanied by a pamphlet titled Allan Kaprow: An Exhibition. In it Kaprow set out his aims under the heading "Notes on the Creation of a Total Art":
In the present exhibition we do not come to look at things. We simply enter, are surrounded, and become part of what surrounds us, passively or actively according to our talent for "engagement," in much the same way that we have moved out of the totality of the street or our home where we also played a part.10
The text explains how visitors should view and interpret the work. They are to literally enter into the picture and participate in the composition of the Environment, which in turn constantly changes in response to their input. This idea reflected Kaprow's interest in producing a space that-as an extended form of painting-not only represented something but also had a presence of its own. As he put it: "Space is no longer pictorial, but actual (and sometimes both)."11 According to him, visitors to the exhibition were given "much greater responsibility" than in the context of traditional artistic media, and the "success" of the work depended as much on them as it did on the artist.12 Indeed the Environment only "happened" when someone was moving around within it.In 1992, Kaprow wrote in retrospect that "the Environment was vestigially scenographic, but it favored the making and doing process, not the visual result."13
"The Legacy of Jackson Pollock"
This form of art, as yet without any widely accepted nomenclature, was in need of commentary, and Kaprow provided this in an essay, at greater length than was possible in the exhibition pamphlet. Timed to coincide with the opening of his second Environment at the Hansa Gallery, in October 1958 Art News published "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock."14 In this essay, Kaprow outlined the thinking that had led to his Environment and, in so doing, cast light on his future production. He also established the credentials of his work by staking his claim to the legacy of none other than Jackson Pollock, who had died in a car crash in 1956. Kaprow diagnosed a tragic component in Pollock's life that had less to do with his sudden death than with the precarious state of art at that time. He suggested that Pollock's role as a heroically self-sacrificing artist had become as untenable as the situation of contemporary art in general, which now appeared to be doomed to either eternal repetition or regression.
Kaprow came up with two provocative notions. First, that modern art-or as we would say today, Modernist or Late Modernist art-had become a thing of the past, at the latest with Pollock's death. He presented the art of the 1940s and 1950s as a historical phenomenon that had already come to an end-of course he was making this point before the term postmodern had become common currency.15 Second, he suggested that as an artist, Pollock had been playing a role. Although Kaprow does not explicitly talk of a role, nevertheless his references to Pollock's "gesture," to his being "in the work," to his interest in the "attitude" of the Surrealists, to his work as an "act," and to the "acrobatic" aspect of interpretation all testify to the fact that Kaprow imagined the artist as an actor of sorts, as someone who is performative in his demeanor and actions. He took the notion of the author behind or above the work and replaced it with the idea of the artist as an actor in a scenario that neither the artist nor the viewer can fully take in.
Pollock's legacy, according to Kaprow, was not the paintings he had produced, for all that "he created some magnificent paintings." In Kaprow's view it was the fact that Pollock had destroyed easel painting. And even if Pollock himself had not capitalized on this and had possibly only "vaguely sensed" its potential, he had definitely pointed the way forward.16 Through his gestures and his lack of a "malerisch [painterly] sensibility" he had managed to escape the tradition of Formalism based on "part-to-whole or part-to-part relationships."17 He created new conditions that allowed him to do away with the artfulness of painting and to relate art more closely to older practices such as "ritual, magic, and life." As Kaprow saw it, there were two possibilities: either follow in Pollock's footsteps, making "near-paintings" and inevitably coming up against a dead end in the process, or give up easel painting altogether.18 The latter was the path that Kaprow recommended:
Pollock, as I see him, left us at the point where we must become preoccupied with and even dazzled by the space and objects of our everyday life, either our bodies, clothes, rooms, or, if need be, the vastness of Forty-second Street. Not satisfied with the suggestion through paint of our other senses, we shall utilize the specific substances of sight, sound, movement, people, odors, touch. Objects of every sort are materials for the new art: paint, chairs, food, electric and neon lights, smoke, water, old socks, a dog, movies, a thousand other things that will be discovered by the present generation of artists. Not only will these bold creators show us, as if for the first time, the world we have always had about us but ignored, but they will disclose entirely unheard-of happenings and events, found in garbage cans, police files, hotel lobbies; seen in store windows and on the streets; and sensed in dreams and horrible accidents. An odor of crushed strawberries, a letter from a friend, or a billboard selling Drano; three taps on the front door, a scratch, a sigh, or a voice lecturing endlessly, a blinding staccato flash, a bowler hat-all will become materials for this new concrete art.
Young artists of today need no longer say, "I am a painter" or "a poet" or "a dancer." They are simply "artists." All of life will be open to them. They will discover out of ordinary things the meaning of ordinariness. They will not try to make them extraordinary but will only state their real meaning. But out of nothing they will devise the extraordinary and then maybe nothingness as well. People will be delighted or horrified, critics will be confused or amused, but these, I am certain, will be the alchemies of the 1960s.19
It is nothing short of astounding that Kaprow anticipated the artistic issues of the immediate future with such accuracy. The different role of the viewer, the advent of performativity, the engagement with popular culture, and the transformation of spatiality are all prefigured in this text. And so it was that in 1964, for instance, when Frank Stella delivered his verdict on "relational painting," he was in effect implementing Kaprow's critique of relational composition methods.20 Moreover, Kaprow's text is still regarded as a "manifesto for the Pop generation,"21 even as a "prophetic statement."22 This article in Art News made such an impact above all because Kaprow managed to communicate the concerns of a younger generation of artists while outlining a vision that was as inspiring as it was vague, with the result that numerous artists read it as a reflection of their own thinking.
It is typical of Kaprow's approach that rather than simply dismissing Pollock as dead and gone, he proceeded to reassess an eclectic selection of elements of Pollock's art. Kaprow neither indulged in a symbolic act of patricide nor allowed Pollock to become his demon, unlike Claes Oldenburg, for instance, who later noted ironically: "I feel like Pollock is lurking over my shoulder, or rather crouching in my pants."23 The relationship Kaprow implied between himself and Pollock is similar to the one between Robert Rauschenberg and Willem de Kooning, illustrated by Rauschenberg in 1953 in Erased de Kooning Drawing. With de Kooning's consent, Rauschenberg spent a month and a half meticulously erasing one of de Kooning's drawings. However, this was not so much an iconoclastic act as a pastiche of artistic patricide.24 De Kooning had deliberately selected a drawing executed in oil crayons and ink, which could not be entirely erased. And for a long time Rauschenberg kept the end product in his private collection like a trophy-with its evidence of determined yet ultimately ineffectual erasure.25 Rauschenberg and Kaprow thus took the Oedipal process of artistic rebellion, based on the nineteenth-century model of trouncing one's predecessors, and replaced it with playful imitation. To paraphraseGilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, they were only Oedipal "for fun."26
Unlike the artists of the classical avant-garde in the 1910s and 1920s, Kaprow was not out to do away with painting. On the contrary, he repeatedly made the point that his work was deeply rooted in the rationale of painting and that "the innovations which are under discussion have primarily grown out of the advanced painting of the last decade."27 In fact he was closer to his teacher Hans Hofmann than he was to Pollock. In his writings and teaching Hofmann always returned to the connection between movement and space, between tension and rhythm, and without doubt his ideas, as set out in the following passage, were a major source of inspiration for Kaprow's Environments:
Movement is the expression of life. All movements are of a spatial nature. The continuation of movement through space is rhythm. Thereby rhythm is the expression of life in space.... The product of movement and counter-movement is tension. When tension-working strength-is expressed, it endows the work of art with the living effect of coordinated, though opposing, forces.28
So Kaprow's mission was not to wipe out painting as a medium but rather to transform it. He wanted to free it from its self-referentiality and historicity and thus develop an alternative to the tradition of art for art's sake. Or, as he said on a later occasion: "I was concerned with the implication that action painting-Pollock's in particular-led not to more painting, but to more action."29 One of the counterstrategies he employed, like many of his contemporaries, was narration. As he put it, his easel paintings from the 1950s told "literary stories." With hindsight he pointed out that his paintings had always been figurative, never nonrepresentational, and that his "seemingly 'abstract' pictures were anything but abstract!"30 Another strategy was to use collage and assemblage, as in Kiosk: Rearrangeable Panels with Lights (1959). This consists of a series of variously clad panels that can be opened up, at will, like a polyptich, or closed again-that is to say, they can be arranged as a sculptural installation. Kaprow regarded collage as a subset of painting that also bore within it the seed of a future replacement for painting, or, as he put it, "one of the forms of painting which has led us unknowingly toward rejecting painting in any form, without, however, eliminating the use of paint."31
Kaprow thus took what he needed both from art history and from the art being produced in his own time. His works have a strong affinity with Rauschenberg's Combines. Like Rauschenberg, he was striving to combine painting, assemblage, and stage design. Shortly before Kaprow installed his Environments in the Hansa Gallery, Rauschenberg-commissioned to create the set for a performance by the dancer Merce Cunningham on 30 November 1957 at the Brooklyn Academy of Music-came up with a design using chicken wire, branches, and newspapers, all of which appear in Kaprow's pieces.32 From 1956 to 1958 Kaprow attended the seminars led by John Cage (a close friend of Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns) at the New School for Social Research, where, as Kaprow pointed out, he learned a lot about tape recorders and made the "transition from being a visual collagist to being a noise collagist."33 He suggested that Johns should participate in the exhibition Artists of the New York School: Second Generation, which he was co-organizing and which was to be presented at the Jewish Museum of New York in 1957. So Johns exhibited his painting Green Target there.34 Some critics took the view that Kaprow was imitating Rauschenberg, and Porter closed his assessment of the exhibition in autumn 1958 with the words "Kaprow could be more inventive."35
What looked to many at the time like plagiarism can now be seen as the outcome of an entirely deliberate approach to art as a commentary on the status quo, which is wholly in keeping with Kaprow's skepticism regarding the Modernists' expectation of constant innovation. For the differences outweigh the formal similarities between Kaprow's assemblages and Environments and Rauschenberg's Combines. Kaprow's works are not about adding and combining decipherable codes from the repertoire of art history and popular culture. They are much more about the contingent superimposition of sense impressions, which-since they have no fixed meaning-cannot be unraveled like some kind of mystery. Typical of these is the collage Hysteria (1956), whose whole picture plane is pasted or painted with the word Haha. The paint surface consists of a mass of interlocking letters that cannot be taken apart and reconstituted in their original form. Whereas Rauschenberg took the view that all lines of communication are of equal value, regardless of direction, Kaprow's interest was in the errors and faults that can arise during the process of communication. And while Rauschenberg, in his role as a mediator between different levels of representation, was constantly colonizing new terrain and themes for art-thereby reinforcing its hegemony in the cultural arena-Kaprow questioned the basic precepts of art by seeking out confrontation with nonartistic realms.
For Rauschenberg's pluralist art there was "no poor subject," because in it meaning can be transferred or shifted at will.36 For Kaprow, however, there were most definitely better and worse subjects. Rauschenberg's Combines respect the limits of painting and sculpture and accept the authority of established iconographies. In fact his combination of painting and sculpture does not defy the limitations of different genres as such but rather the hierarchization of artistic genres, with painting as the dominant medium. Even as the Combines symbolically ignore the frame and reach out into the space around them, they affirm the authority of that same frame. By contrast, Kaprow's Environments share the space with the exhibition-goer. Whether this art, as we have already seen, is deemed "successful" depends as much on the audience's engagement as on the artist.37 The complex spatiality of these Environments-in which there is no preferred standpoint-comes to light as soon as we examine the documentation pertaining to them. Rauschenberg's Combines, like his stage sets, are photogenic and readily accommodate the static position of a single viewer. In complete contrast, Kaprow's Environments only arise through a process of interaction with multiple participants. They are all but impossible to photograph and cry out for commentary and interpretation. The fact that of all Rauschenberg's works, Kaprow most admired the White Paintings he saw at the exhibition in the Betty Parsons Gallery in 1953 is highly revealing with regard to the role that he expected the viewer to play. He remembered spending a long time looking at these paintings, studying the reflections and shadows that appeared on the white surfaces. In his view these were Rauschenberg's "pivotal works," because they "left viewers with themselves and the void in front of them."38
The Hansa Gallery
Taking a closer look at the institutional circumstances that formed the backdrop to his artistic praxis can shed useful light on how Kaprow came up with his Environments in 1958. Until that point he had exhibited almost exclusively at the Hansa Gallery in New York. Like all the other members exhibiting at the gallery, he paid out of his own pocket for the hire of the premises and publicity for his exhibitions. His hope was that this would pay off by attracting the attention of collectors, critics, and museum directors so that sooner or later he could make the move to an established uptown gallery on or around Fifty-Seventh Street. The Hansa Gallery, founded in 1952 by a group of students from a Hans Hofmann class, had its roots in a cooperative called 813 Broadway, launched in December 1951.39 The name Hansa was a reference both to the league of North European seaports and to the students' highly respected teacher. This new venture was to become the most prominent of a number of similar cooperatives, such as the Tanager Gallery (founded in spring 1952, closed in summer 1962) and three others-Area, Camino, and March-all on Tenth Street.40 George Segal, for one, was convinced that the Hansa Gallery "represented the embryo that hinted at most of the major directions in New York contemporary art."41
The founders, who signed a contract in November 1952 setting out "the aims and means of the Hansa Gallery," were Jacques Beckwith, Barbara Forst, Miles Forst, Jane Wilson Gruen, John Gruen, Wolf Kahn, Allan Kaprow, Jan Müller, Felix Pasilis, and Richard Stankiewicz.42 John Gruen seems to have initially taken on a role similar to that of a business manager. The contract stipulated that the founding members should present at least one solo exhibition per season. In autumn 1958, immediately before the cooperative was dissolved, the regular members were Beckwith, Richard Bellamy, Lilly Berdoy, Jean Follet, Miles Forst, Kaprow, Ivan Karp, Fay Lansner, George Segal, Stankiewicz, and Myron Stout.43 However, this is not to say that all these artists sold much of their work, let alone were able to live from their sales. Without exception the artist-members of the Hansa Gallery cooperative, including Bellamy, appointed the business manager in 1954, and Karp, who acted as manager toward the gallery's end, all earned their living elsewhere.44
Kaprow was the only member who already had a university post by the mid-1950s. While studying for his master of arts at Columbia University under Meyer Shapiro, whom he described as a "rara avis" among art historians, someone who was at home with the art of both the past and the present, Kaprow had also studied painting with Hans Hofmann. Although he had not published his master's thesis, "Piet Mondrian: A Study in Seeing" (1952), it nevertheless qualified him to take up a position, in 1953, as an instructor of art history and art for Rutgers University at Douglass College. From 1956 to 1961 he held the post of assistant professor and actively encouraged other artists to take up teaching posts at Rutgers.45 Lichtenstein, who had taught at various universities since the mid-1950s, became an assistant professor at Rutgers in the summer of 1960;46 Robert Watts and Geoffrey Hendricks were also faculty members; Lucas Samaras and Robert Whitman studied under Kaprow; and George Segal graduated from Rutgers with a master of fine arts in 1960. However, Kaprow left Douglass College following a dispute that arose when some of his colleagues deemed a particular work by Samaras to be obscene. After a short spell at the Pratt Institute, in 1961 he was appointed an associate professor in the Department of Fine Arts at the State University of New York at Stony Brook, where he subsequently held the position of professor from 1966 to 1969. At this point his career as a university teacher took him to the West Coast, where he was to remain. Having spent 1969-1973 as associate dean at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, in 1974 he was appointed a professor in the Visual Arts Department at the University of California, San Diego, where he was also department chair from 1985 until his retirement in 1993, when he became a professor emeritus.
From the outset, Kaprow combined a number of different roles in the art business: with his main source of income coming from his university teaching, he also exhibited in his own right, organized group exhibitions, and published texts on art-mainly concerned with his own work. In the art world he deliberately cultivated his image as artist and art historian in one. In view of his ambitions as a university teacher, he had to publish on a regular basis. With this in mind, he complained to Meyer Shapiro that Douglass College refused to recognize his painting as research: "I'm practically forced to write articles (the grand stand-by)-which I don't relish or have time for."47 At the same time, however, programmatic essays presented the ideal opportunity to lend weight to his exhibitions. In this he once again proved to be leading the way in what was to become a more general trend. The academization of artists-that is to say, the idea that they should graduate from a university with a master of fine arts-only started to become the norm in the course of the 1950s.48 This was matched in the 1960s by an equally rapid rise in the number of artists teaching at universities.49
The members of the Hansa Gallery did not regard their cooperative as a programmatic league to promote any particular artistic approach; they viewed it quite pragmatically as a potential springboard for their individual careers. Although they occasionally invited speakers-including Clement Greenberg in the mid-1950s-the members did not pursue any shared theoretical aims.50 They did not even agree in their attitudes toward Abstract Expressionism. However, they did attract considerable attention. Exhibitions at the Hansa Gallery were regularly reviewed in Art News, whose editor-in-chief, Thomas Hess, looked kindly on the group. By the mid-1950s the members' efforts were beginning to bear fruit. With the marked rise in prices being paid for Abstract Expressionism, there was a growing demand for new, less expensive art. Paintings and sculptures by Hansa artists, such as Müller and Segal, and especially large-format assemblages by Stankiewicz were now shown in prestigious group exhibitions and increasingly bought by art museums. Consequently the Hansa Gallery was able to move from downtown New York to uptown, to the southern end of Central Park, and to employ a professional business manager who earned a commission on his sales.
However, the growing success of certain members of the group also inevitably heralded the dissolution of the cooperative. In this situation Kaprow knew that he needed a succès de scandale if he was to make a breakthrough before the gallery closed. As he later wrote: "[The artist] must put-up or shut-up, succeed in conveying his vision in reasonably good time or consider giving up the attempt."51 The distinctly sensational invention of a new medium-the Environment-was the best solution, although the piece itself would, by definition, not generate any sales. Looking back, Bellamy recalled that Kaprow had never intended to sell the work but rather hoped it would encourage academic and art institutions to provide grants or other funding that would allow him to continue with his experimental work.52
Art and the Division of Labor: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts
Kaprow now set about building on the reputation he had made for himself with his Environments and "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock." He spent three months preparing an event for the beginning of the 1959 art season-an event that was to go down in the history of art as the first ever Happening. After the summer vacation, art lovers in New York received a form letter from Reuben-Kaprow Associates announcing that "eighteen happenings will take place." The recipients were invited to become part of these Happenings and to experience them in the company of other spectators: "Do not look for paintings, sculpture, the dance, or music. The artist disclaims any intention to provide them. He does believe that he provides some engaging situations." The letter closes with the words "The present event is created in a medium which Mr. Kaprow finds refreshing to leave untitled."53 A press release announced that the Reuben Gallery would have a grand opening in the autumn, not with easel paintings but with an "event."54 Later onflyers were sent out with the title "18 Happenings in 6 Parts."55 Some people also received individual invitations, consisting of a plastic bag that contained, besides the flyer, scraps of paper, photographs, wood, cinnamon sticks, and cutout figures.56 The recipients of the flyers learned that the event would be held in three rooms, that there would be actors and slide projections, that the "actions will mean nothing clearly formulable," and that the "whole work is to be intimate, austere and of somewhat brief duration." They were also asked to indicate whether they would be attending, because of the limited number of places available, and to make a financial contribution.
The work 18 Happenings in 6 Parts was presented six times-on 4 and 6-10 October 1959-at eight thirty in the evening, and lasted exactly one hour.57 Audience members were given a program with an "Instructions" informing them that the performance was divided into six parts, each of which consisted of three Happenings; the sound of bells would mark the end of one and the beginning of the next. The lengths of the intervals between the parts were underlined (two minutes between parts 1 and 2, 3 and 4, and 5 and 6; fifteen minutes between parts 2 and 3, and 4 and 5). Visitors were also given three cards informing them which room they should sit in and when. Each evening there were six participants, three men and three women, who were predominantly artists. Kaprow's score lists the participants: "Allan Kaprow-who speaks and plays a musical instrument," "Lucas Samaras-who speaks, plays a game and a musical instrument," "Sam Francis, Red Grooms, Dick Higgins, Lester Johnson, Alfred Leslie, Jay Milder, George Segal, Robert Thomson-each of whom paints," and "the visitors, who sit in various chairs."58 Robert Whitman, Shirley Prendergast, and Rosalyn Montague also took part as actors. Curiosity drove a large audience to the gallery newly opened by Anita Reuben, which was downtown in a loft above an antiquarian bookshop.59 The audience no doubt included many of the protagonists from the burgeoning New York art world, who in any case were always running into one another and who would feature three years later in a group portrait in the form of the book The Artist's World, by Fred McDarrah.60
Unlike the Environments, the first Happening is well documented, thanks to the detailed description, including a number of photographs, published by Michael Kirby in 1965 in his book Happenings. In preparation for the event, Kaprow had erected a temporary stage set in the loft. Opaque plastic sheets fixed to wooden frames divided the space into three "rooms" of different sizes. According to Kirby, in room 1 there were around thirty folding chairs facing the other rooms, which were only indistinctly visible through the plastic sheeting. Red and white bulbs were suspended from the ceiling and bathed the room in a pink light. The walls, as in Kaprow's earlier Environments, were covered with assemblages of wax fruits, scraps of paper, and mirrors. In room 2 there were two groups of around a dozen chairs, facing each other. A single lamp bathed the space in blue light, and colored Christmas lights bedecked the walls. In room 3 there were fifteen chairs, placed so that they faced the other rooms. As in room 1, there were light bulbs suspended from the ceiling, this time blue and white. Fixed to the plastic wall between rooms 2 and 3 were variously colored foil rings. Another wall was made from a screen collaged with words and fragments of words.
The audience took their seats. A bell sounded to announce the beginning of the event. Loud, dissonant, electronic noises from four tape recorders sounded from loudspeakers. Actors appeared in ordinary day wear, men in room 1 and women in room 2, and, like robots, executed a number of gymnastic exercises, strictly according to Kaprow's choreography. In the darker room 3, there were slide projections of children's drawings and Kaprow's paintings. Part 1 of the event ended after five minutes. After a short pause, part 2 began, with two actors in suits carrying placards on small sticks and reading out sentences on the placards in loud voices. The audience heard fragmented utterances on the subjects of time and art. Samaras was the speaker discussing art and came out with sentences such as: "I was about to speak yesterday on a subject most dear to you all-art. I wanted to speak then about art, but I was unable to begin."61 In room 3 there were more slides, this time of masterpieces of European art. This was followed by a fifteen-minute interval, during which visitors moved to a different room depending on the instructions on their cards. Couples and friends who had come to the event together found themselves separated. Some people were instructed to stay where they were, since all three rooms did not have the same number of chairs.
Part 3 began with the entry of the actors once again and more electronic noises. In room 1 two female actors performed a series of physical exercises; one of them bounced a rubber ball. In room 2 two actors sat at a table, where they played with little wooden blocks that they arranged according to instructions issued by Kaprow in a flat voice that was now heard from the record player. In room 3, accompanied by a slide projection of diverse objects, a female actor recited fragments of poems. In part 4, four actors in room 1 played on a variety of musical instruments, as set out in Kaprow's score. In room 2 a mechanical drumming doll was set in motion. Meanwhile, in room 3 a man sat down at a table, struck a number of matches, and extinguished them in a glass of water, one after the other. Following this he positioned himself behind lengths of plastic sheeting, which he sprayed with a liquid so that the audience's view of him became increasingly blurred. In the next interval the audience members again switched places. In Part 5 indistinct sentences and words were heard from the speakers. A female actor in room 1 pressed oranges, filled a number of glasses set out in readiness, and drank the juice (see figure 5). The smell of the oranges filled the room and mingled with the smell of enamel paint in tins that were brought into the room. Another female actor pushed a so-called sandwich man-a wheeled construction for displaying advertising-from room to room. The sound of dance music, played on a scratchy old record player, came from within the sandwich man. In room 2 an actor presented a pantomime of sorts. At the same time, in room 3 a male and a female actor read sentences from placards that they carried in front of themselves. As the sandwich man passed through room2, two spectators stepped forward from the audience (on one of the evenings Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg performed this task), one from room2, the other from room3, and approached, from opposite sides, a frame in the dividing wall, over which a canvas was stretched. Each was carrying a brush and a tin of paint, and they started to paint the canvas with repetitive gestures.62 Since the canvas was unprimed, each performer and the audience could see what was bleeding through from the other side.63
The final part of the event took place without sound. In room 1, two actors performed a symmetrical synchronized sequence of movements. In room 2, two female actors stood stock still, facing the audience. After a time the four actors came together in the central room. They pulled rolls of colored paper down from the ceiling and started to read out the one-syllable words written on them. The voices merged, creating a Babylonian confusion that Kirby reproduced as "eh?," "mmmmmm ... ," "uh," "but," "well," "oooh...." In room 3 the lights went out for the last time and a single slide was projected, showing a detail of Kaprow's face-his mouth and chin (see figure 6). When the bell rang out twice, the last of the eighteen Happenings was over.
"Eh?," "mmmmmm ... ," "uh," "but," "well," "oooh ... ," you might say, although not entirely seriously, is not all that different from what has since been written about 18 Happenings in 6 Parts. Although most historiographers of modern art agree that it was a milestone, scarcely anyone-with the exception of Gavin Butt and Jeff Kelley-does more than mention the title. For Jürgen Becker it was the "first of its kind."64 For Rosalee Goldberg it was "one of the earliest opportunities for a wider public to attend the live events that several artists had performed more privately for friends."65 For Henry Sayre it marked the beginning of the history of Performance in New York.66 Thomas Crow places two images of the event at the beginning of his book The Rise of the Sixties and describes Kaprow as one of the founders of a tradition of "hybrid events, dubbed Happenings," albeit, as he adds, within the apolitical, "nearer horizons of the art world."67 And for Kelley it was "the first American Happening and a seminal moment in the history of the avant-garde."68 The main sources these authors used are Kirby's description of the Happenings, based on his memories as an eyewitness, an early script of 18 Happenings in 6 Parts published in the internal bulletin of Rutgers University, and the hand-written scores and other documents now in the Kaprow archive at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.69
According to Kirby, one source of inspiration for the piece came in the shape of dance performances at Rutgers University presented by Paul Taylor that Kaprow and Whitman had seen. Part of this program was given over to a dance divided into separate sequences in which a girl's voice announcing the time was followed by Taylor performing a series of jerky movements.70 Nevertheless, these accounts-some published and others accessible only in the Kaprow archive, like photographs of the rehearsals-and contemporaneous reviews supply only a very sketchy impression of the whole.71 There was hardly any reaction in the press. That the detailed article which appeared in the Village Voice was effusive was not surprising, since it was penned by Kaprow and signed for him by a friend.72 But the article by Fairfield Porter in The Nation was devastating. Porter accused Kaprow of eclecticism and specifically of plagiarizing the work of Cage, Rauschenberg, and Cunningham. "The Eighteen Happenings devalue all art by a meaningless and deliberate surgery. And the final totality is without character.... Like so many science fiction movies about the future, his subject matter is the undigested immediate past."73
After Kirby published his account, it was to be another twenty years before the next eyewitness report appeared, in the shape of a detailed description of the Happening in Samuel Delany's autobiography The Motion of Light in Water, published in 1988. Delany recounts that as an eighteen-year-old, he was at the Happening purely by chance and felt rather strange there, as the sole Afro-American in the audience. With hindsight, he felt that the real impact of Kaprow's work of art was the awareness it instilled in him of the altered temporality of Postmodernism: "As a representation and analysis of the situation of the subject in history, I don't think Kaprow's work could have been improved on. And, in that sense, Eighteen Happenings in Six Parts was about as characteristic a work as one might choose in which to experience the clash that begins our reading of the hugely arbitrary postmodern."74
In that same year, 1988, Kaprow presented a new version of 18 Happenings in 6 Parts in New York, although with an entirely different score, without an audience, and with little response from the art world.75 In 2006, shortly after Kaprow's death, André Lepecki presented a replica in Munich, which conveyed a sense of the progression and the atmosphere of the work.76 And in the autumn of 2006, Christoph Schlingensief presented a walk-in installation titled Kaprow City at the Volksbühne in Berlinalong with a two-hour performance involving members of the audience, which explicitly drew on 18 Happenings in 6 Parts. It is as though 18 Happenings in 6 Parts actively invites historic reenactments, however incomplete.
Taking as his example the fragmentary and partially inaccurate recollections published by Delany, Gavin Butt has demonstrated how memories and history are also defined by what is left out. He particularly makes the point that "history writing ... might address itself to its own inevitable inadequacies, to its lapses of memory, exclusions, and obfuscations as an important part of its very enterprise" (Butt's italics).77 He quotes Benjamin Buchloh, who takes the view that "happenings are known of and not known," and this "only through their dispersed traces: hearsay and gossip, reminiscence, a few photographs, and documents."78 Unlike those of many other works of art, Butt says, the story of a Happening is by definition open-ended:
So, whilst happenings might be taken as disappearing from the historical record by dint of the passing of their unique spatio-temporality, they continue to live on in the memories and curiosities of contemporary writers and historians. Remaining in this manner means that the arrival at any kind of final, interpretative closure is forever deferred in favor of the production and circulation of multiple and competing narratives.79
This had already led certain contemporary critics to assume that anyone could attribute their own meaning to the work. But although Kaprow had stated in advance that the actions would "mean nothing clearly formulable," he determinedly resisted accusations of "meaninglessness" by critics such as Jill Johnston:80
You are beginning to join with many in denouncing "meaning" in art and favoring "no-meaning," or purely existent situations-for-themselves. I don't wish here to say more than that this view is as discriminatory as any other, in advocating one kind of subject matter (about which you assume there is no-meaning) over another (of which you believe you know the meaning).... A chap asks a Zen master what Buddhist enlightenment is. He is told that before studying, a mountain is a mountain. While studying, everything seems confused. Then, with enlightment, a mountain is once more a mountain. I would suggest, Jill, that for the word "mountain," you substitute the word "meaning."81
In an interview Kaprow explained that as a rule he conceived his works on four levels. First there was "suchness," second the "difference of daily life and imaginations," third "structure," and fourth "meaning."82 In other words, he left nothing to chance. The rigidity of the structure of 18 Happenings in 6 Parts reflects this. The notion of chance has much less to do with Kaprow's work than the notion of irony, as expounded by the literary scholar Linda Hutcheon in her book Irony's Edge. Hutcheon points out that "irony 'happens' (and that's the verb I think best describes the process) in all kinds of discourses (verbal, visual, aural), in common speech as well as in highly crafted aesthetic form, in so-called high art as well as in popular culture." And, in her view, irony is unlike ambiguity, allegory, or metaphor in the sense its meaning cannot readily be transplanted: "Irony has an edge." For, as she explains, irony happens in "discursive communities." That is to say, in any particular context the intention, the attribution, and the framing create the scene within which the irony occurs.83 One of Hutcheon's special lines of inquiry concerns the interaction between relations of power and relations of communication. The model that she develops here can be usefully applied to Kaprow's Happening. The audience at 18 Happenings in 6 Parts was clearly a "discursive community." And Kaprow's statements concerning the piece, explicitly intended as instructions, commentary, and interpretation, provided the framing that such a community depends on. The event was characterized by a mixture of inclusion and exclusion, with the participants both involved and kept at a distance. Moreover, it was self-evident that all the spectators did not necessarily understand Kaprow's Happening; while some got it, others certainly didn't.
As an art historian I would naturally like to count myself among those who got it. Consequently I prefer to set out my interpretation here and now rather than somehow sidestepping the issue, as Kelley does with his suggestion that 18 Happenings in 6 Parts marked the end of the first phase of Kaprow's artistic career.84 Rather, I argue that it marks the beginning of Kaprow's performative works. Butt also avoids the question by declaring that the Happening holds up a mirror to the patchiness of memory. Kaprow himself provided no real answers. In conversation, he remarked to me that the Happening was full of funny references to the art of the day. However, even he could no longer identify any of those references and admitted that at the time they had been lost on the audience. He did say was that the title was an allusion to Luigi Pirandello's play Six Characters in Search of an Author (1921), which enjoyed particular popularity in the 1950s.85 In addition, both works-Pirandello's play and Kaprow's event-require six actors, three men and three women, for the main parts. The involvement of the audience, the special announcement, and the focus on theatrical devices in Kaprow's case would all have been unthinkable without Pirandello's striking representation of a theater within a theater. Other elements, such as the fragmented dialogues, also recall Pirandello's techniques. Which only leaves the question, how does this advance our understanding of Kaprow's work?
My 18 Happenings in 6 Parts
So how shall I tell the story of this work? I would like to start by tracking down the author's signature. It appears on the flyers and in the program, which names Kaprow as both the originator of the piece and a participant "who speaks and plays a musical instrument."86 During the event Kaprow took on various roles.87 For the first, he had prerecorded his voice, which was now heard from the wings, instructing two actors on how to arrange a number of small wooden blocks. For his second role, like the Pied Piper of Hamelin he played the flute in a procession. In his thirdhe was implicitly present as the maker of one of the paintings in the slide show. Last, the lower half of his face was pictured on a slide. As one of the few men sporting a beard in the art world at the time, Kaprow, "bearded but no beatnik," would have been easy to identify.88 So the author had the last word-although both silent (according to Kirby, the mouth was "expressionless") and unseeing, in the sense that his eyes were not in view.89 Leo Steinberg had discussed the dialectic of seeing and speaking, alluded to here, in a recent text on Jasper Johns.90 And the audience members must have known Johns's painting Target with Four Faces (1955), the top edge of whose frame consists of a closable set of four niches, each containing the lower half of a face. It had featured on the cover of Art News and caused a considerable stir when it was shown at the Leo Castelli Gallery (see figure 7).91
This division of the author into originator, actor, commentator, and imitator, someone who invents, arranges, performs, comments, and is receptive to other people's ideas, is radically at odds with the monolithic coherence of the artistic author who puts up a (mystifying) front, as in the case of artists such as Pollock and Cage.92 Ever since Harold Rosenberg's 1952 essay "The American Action Painters," inspired by Hans Namuth's photographs and films of Pollock, the canvas could also be treated as an arena where an "act" might take place. The impact of Namuth's images can hardly be overestimated. In the 1950s, as a direct consequence, Art News introduced a regular feature on an artist painting a picture. In addition to the text, often interspersed with quotes from the artist, there was always a series of shots of the artist's studio, taking the reader right through from the canvas being stretched to the finished picture. The tone of these features suggested that the reader could in a sense participate in the creative act they traced.
Kaprow, in my interpretation, gave artistic form to the division of labor. In the 1950s, art-by way of being a notable exception-was a field of activity within industrialized society that appeared to be exempt from the modern division of labor. Artists such as Pollock and Cage served in the United States as figures onto whom others projected their notions (both desirable and undesirable) of a still intact world of work. For some they embodied preindustrial workers, who are not alienated from their work, who sets themselves a particular task and have the product in their hands from the first concept to the eventual sale. It was not only the artist's persona that seemed to fit this bill. It was also his or her place of production-an empty loft. In the 1950s and 1960s small-scale nineteenth-century manufacturing premises in New York's inner-city loft buildings, whose occupants had left after the Second World War, were now starting to find favor as places of artistic production and reproduction, as studio, apartment, and gallery in one. (Unawares and unintentionally their new occupants were, however, also setting in motion precisely the process of gentrification that they themselves would fall victim to in the 1970s and 1980s, when yuppies and boutiques would drive them out of their inexpensive studios.) With its clear structural division of labor and also by virtue of its maker's refusal to accept the loft as a more or less natural framework, Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts presented an alternative to the Late Modernist concept of artistic work.
In a sense the acts that Kaprow presented in the three arenas of the Reuben Gallery made a mockery of the idea of art production as the work of an artistic genius engaged in a heroic struggle with his material; at times they even recalled moments in the movies of the Marx Brothers, which Kaprow greatly admired. And although the actors did in some ways struggle with their props, they did this like people getting on with a job, almost as though they were implementing Frederick Taylor's findings from his analyses of specific work sequences, detailed in his book The Principle of Scientific Management (1911). The performers were not driven from within but clearly "outer directed," as David Riesman would have put it.93 That is to say, they carried out activities like operatives that have been invented and are controlled by some other beings. Each one was responsible for only certain sections of the piece. But-unlike a stage play or a circus act-the Happening would have had little effect if any of them had somehow gone off the rails. (This did in fact happen one evening, when Al Leslie was supposed to draw vertical lines on a canvas but started writing obscene words instead.)94 There was nothing at all heroic about these performers' activities. In response to mysterious instructions, they executed purely mechanical actions, almost like puppets, parts in a machine, or members of a German dance-gymnastics group from the early twentieth century.95 They were constantly taking on different roles. They expressed nothing-the closest they got was pressing halved oranges.
However, Kaprow's subdivision of the author into various roles was at odds with the image of not only the heroic Action painters. His representation of different roles was also in stark contrast to the persona embodied by Cage. In the late 1950s many artists of the younger generation identified with Cage, who was widely regarded as the antithesis to the Action painters. While established artists such as Pollock and de Kooning moved out of town to the countryside, Cage was omnipresent in the downtown art scene. He was constantly in evidence-teaching, writing, lecturing, performing. He had every reason to be curious about 18 Happenings in 6 Parts; he had already witnessed various performances realized by Kaprow, a student in his seminar. And Cage had organized that legendary event-undocumented and untitled-that took place in the summer of 1952 at Black Mountain College, which historiographers refer to as "the first Happening," as a direct model for "the material and structure" of Kaprow's Happening, as a "proto-Happening," the "first such event," as the source of all later Happenings, and as a "preparation for the countless activities of the 1950s and 60s."96 What is now generally referred to as Untitled Event apparently involved a combination of artistic genres that were presented, partly concurrently, in front of, around, and behind the audience, which was seated in the center of the room.97 M. C. Richards and Charles Olsen are said to have recited poems, Cunningham improvised a dance performance, David Tudor played the piano, and Rauschenberg played Edith Piaf discs on an old record player.98 Slides and flickering 8 mm films were projected onto the walls.
In some respects Kaprow no doubt took his lead from the concepts of art and vocabulary he had absorbed from Cage. As a student in Cage's seminar, he would have heard accounts of Untitled Event, and Cage's notion of "experimental action," the "outcome of which is not foreseen," informed his rhetoric as much as the idea that any such performance was by definition "unique."99 Kaprow's path from painting to the stage would have been inconceivable without Cage's own progress from music to theater. As Cage said: "Where do we go from here? Towards theater. That art more than music resembles nature."100 Yet the self-evident affinities between Kaprow and Cage are not as interesting as the differences between student and teacher.101 These are readily apparent in the surprisingly harsh criticism of 18 Happenings in 6 Parts that Cage came out with in an interview with Kirby in 1965. In Cage's opinion, the problem was that Kaprow was only interested in himself, quite the opposite of Cage's view of himself: "I came to be interested in anything but myself."102 His irritation at what he regarded as Kaprow's artistic narcissism part could be interpreted as a reaction to being confronted with a mirror image of his own artistic praxis, which ultimately depended on his authority as an artist and teacher and on the public's acceptance of these roles. While Cage played down this authority by dint of his rhetorical insistence on objectivity and concealed it in his artistic praxis behind the mysteries of chance and structures, Kaprow flaunted it in his performance. Kaprow's unabashed interest "in himself" highlighted the authority of the artist as author-and presented it as a topic for debate. Through his performative omnipresence, he invited the audience to question the function of the all-controlling artistic author (barely visible in Cage's praxis). Moreover, he did not present himself as a single, coherent personality-like Pollock and Cage-but rather as a figure fragmented through active engagement in different forms of labor.103
It was not only the narcissistic presence of the author but also the obvious intentionality and what he regarded as Kaprow's high-handed instructions to members of the audience, particularly the seating order, that were alien to Cage's concept of art: "It doesn't include policemen."104 In a sense his criticism of Kaprow reflects the difference between utopian vision and a pragmatic approach, between art as a secluded field within a deregulated reality and art as a testing ground for rules and boundaries. It is significant that Cage specifically objected to the process of allocating seats. The seating arrangement in 1952's Untitled Event comprised four triangular blocks, around which various activities took place, which allowed the audience to "see itself," as Cage himself said.105 There was no hierarchy in this seating arrangement. As Cage explained to a woman in the audience who wanted as good a seat as possible, there were no "best" seats. Not so in 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, whose seats could definitely be described as better or worse. No individual spectator could see the whole event, but some certainly saw more than others, and those who were particularly unlucky in the (random) distribution of instruction cards did not even make it into all three rooms. Thus, in Kaprow's jurisdiction the act of perception was neither natural nor neutral but rather contingent, contradictory, and fragmented.
In the same way that Kaprow deconstructed the originator of the piece, by dividing his labor into its component parts, he also deconstructed his audience. For the spectators could only ever guess at what was happening on the other side of the opaque plastic walls separating the rooms.106 If they wanted to know what had been going on, they had to ask other members of the audience during the intervals, who in turn had to rely on their powers of recall. It was thus only possible to have an impression of the whole scenario by putting together a range of different perceptions, recollections, and assumptions. There was no single spot from which to survey the entire sequence of events. Even the author was caught up in a mechanism that did not distinguish between creation and reception, that both produced the work of art and was produced by it.107 The fine dividing line between creation and perception, between artist and spectator, even between work of art and reproduction seemed to fade away in 18 Happenings in 6 Parts. The intervals, during which the audience members were not allowed to leave the rooms, as the program said, were of just as precise a duration as the acts themselves. The intervals gave the performers a chance to change, but they were also the moment-emphasized by the lighting-when the audience could enjoy the limelight, having been expressly requested in the program to refrain from applauding until the end of the evening. Thus the sounds of people scraping their chairs on the floor, clearing their throats, chatting, making critical remarks, and jockeying for better seats, framed by the interval bells, also became part of the production. Amounting to a total of thirty-six minutes, the intervals lasted longer than the twenty-four minutes of the acts.108
Cage made a point of the process of perception as such, but Kaprow went a stage further.109 His focus was not on the act of neutral perception but rather on the production of meaning through artistic performance. Whereas Cage was interested in opening up "the entire field of time," Kaprow was concerned with actual events.110 Unlike Cage, Kaprow could not-as in the case of his earlier Environments-anticipate that the work would be a success. The form of the work partly depended on the spectators. Cage failed to understand that Kaprow's score accounted for the audience, perhaps because his own artistic calculation for his composition 4'33", for instance, did not include the times before, between, and after the movements.
While chance was central to Cage's work, Kaprow set greater store by rules. After all, the deliberate cultivation of chance-from Kaprow's perspective-was no more than a symbolic transgression, and hence confirmation, of the framework of the self-referentiality of art. Chance as an expression of undirected "naturalness"-in Cage's work and of course in that of Duchamp-was, in Kaprow's estimation, the "most problematic" aspect of the Happenings.111 It was only interesting to him as an instigator of outcomes: Who would sit next to whom once the bell had rung? Who would block whose line of vision? Who would disturb whom by giggling or coughing? What little mishap in the performance would trigger which misunderstandings in the minds of the recipients? How would these misunderstandings be communicated to others? How would the performance be rated during the evening? Whose opinion would be influenced by whom? Which allusions would be spotted, and which would be missed? Accordingly, I take the view that 18 Happenings in 6 Parts is both a representation and a re-creation of the mechanisms underpinning the evaluation of art and the production of meaning that prevailed in the art world in New York at the time. To paraphrase the words of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Kaprow's work was not about what something meant but about how it functioned, how it produced and negotiated meaning.112
Yet this in itself still raises the question of how art from the past generally makes itself felt in our own time and specifically why, at a distance of half a century, this particular piece has lost nothing of its relevance. This brings us to concepts such as the environment, performance, and atmosphere, which are so firmly rooted in art today. It would be going too far to suggest that Kaprow was the first to use these terms-which are, after all, part of everyday speech-as shorthand for specific artistic processes. However, in the late 1950s and early 1960s he did use environment and surroundings to mean "total art." In "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock" he set the word environments in italics, to emphasize it as unusual in the context of art.113 It was only in 1965 that he first wrote Environment with a capital E, giving it the status of an artistic genre in its own right.114 But however he used the relevant terms, the fact remains that half a century ago he mapped out a whole series of issues that have come into prominence again, starting in the 1990s. First there was the intermingling of artistic genres-particularly painting, architecture, and theater. Second, the use of ephemeral, time-dependent structures. Third, the involvement of the spectator in the work's spatial and temporal makeup. Finally, by presenting a work of art and its commentary in parallel, he laid the foundation for a notion that still operates today, namely that the artistic author stands surety for the correct interpretation of his work-whether he expounds on it in detail or prefers to maintain a discreet silence.
Thus not only the enduring presence of Kaprow's art in the contemporary art scene but also its impact on the writing of art history is of interest. The scant documentation of those early Environments and Happenings specifically epitomizes the issues of ephemeral art forms that we as art historians must constantly address. Will we ever know what those exhibitions were really like? Does the written word really help us to see those blurred images more clearly? Is it at all possible to reconstruct the event from the numerous, partly contradictory accounts that have come down to us, to put the pieces of the puzzle back together again? What counts here as the original work? Is there even any sense in trying to find it? Are the two Environments from 1958 and 18 Happenings in 6 Parts more important or more "authentic" than photographic reproductions? Or are precisely those photographs the only authentic thing within our grasp? And what is the significance of the fact that Kaprow retrospectively baptized the exhibitions from spring and fall 1958 and re-created them and other early works more than three decades later, in the early 1990s? How should we deal with the fact that he reinvented 18 Happenings in 6 Parts in 1988 and performed it in the city of New York in an entirely new form? As historians, should we discuss the works from the late 1950s and early 1960s or those from the late 1980s and early 1990s?
For a long time I took the view that it was neither possible nor reasonable to try to reconstruct that original situation. After all, it was changing even under the impact of my description. It was my aim to relinquish the distance, the "objective" reserve that I had previously favored, and to engage with the subject matter in the here and now. I saw my own interpretation as a continuation of the past acts of the performers and participants. I felt that my work as a historiographer interlocked with the work of the author, Kaprow, and with that of the actors and diverse commentators. The subject of my investigation-18 Happenings in 6 Parts-had instigated that very investigation, and for its part the investigation was leading to more outcomes of its own. If 18 Happenings in 6 Parts had never existed I perhaps would not have written my book, yet the piece is dependent on other people telling the story of what happened. So I saw it as my task to make the individual steps in my work comprehensible to and adaptable by others. This was the "truth" of the historiographic approach that I took as my guideline.
But then I found myself compelled to change my ideas. As a witness of the meticulous reconstruction in 2006 of 18 Happenings in 6 Parts led by André Lepecki, I found I had yet another perspective on the work. The movements, the colors, the lighting, and above all the sound effects in the exhibition space made it clear to me that my picture of the Happenings had been too reliant on images and text. Contemporaneous documents and pictures can never convey the atmosphere, the timing, the interplay of different levels-although this is not to say that the replica in Munich did not fill me with something of the same unease that most replicas induce in me. But at the same time I acquired a more nuanced view of Kaprow's achievement.
Geoffrey Hendricks, one of the few who were at both the 1959 and the 2006 event, pinpointed the difference between the two. In his view, everyone at the 1959 event was well aware that it was a significant moment in history, which itself captured the essence of what was in the air at the time. At the re-creation of the event, he had a renewed sense of its formal beauty. Over the years his memory of that aspect of the work had rather faded.115 The event in Munich showed the lucidity of the composition, how well its sights and sounds interconnected, and the importance of the contrast between the controlled elements and the chance aspects of this work. No doubt there was very considerable difference in the behavior of the spectators at the two events. Unlike on that occasion in New York, the "entire" art world-which has expanded beyond all recognition since the 1950s-was of course not present in Munich, and there were no stars from the contemporary art scene, just a handful of specialists and friends from the circles around Kaprow. But the re-creation also confirmed that Kaprow had pulled out all the stops and clearly intended to present a wide-ranging piece that would take its place in art history. And it reinforced what he had said to me in conversation ten years earlier, that it had been his aim both "to step out of history" and to be "the most modern artist in the world."116
The Happeners' Bodies
What has been called the art public is no longer a select, small group upon which artists can depend for a stock response, favorable or otherwise. It is now a large diffused mass, soon to be called the public-in-general.... Not only does it echo a pluralistic esthetics, but is also suggests that the range of reasons people now have for being interested in contemporary art is sufficient for art to be admitted to the public domain. Not all artists can benefit from all these reasons, but artists are in a position to turn the welcome signs to their advantage; for, in any case, people are taking advantage of artists.
-Allan Kaprow, "The Artist as a Man of the World"
Allan Kaprow's 18 Happenings in 6 Parts caused a major stir in the art world in 1959. At last someone had found the long-sought escape from the gravitational pull of Action Painting. Immediately after the event was presented, a wave of Happenings set in, continuing until the mid-1960s. The press and increasing numbers of the wider public responded with enthusiasm to "Happeners" such as Red Grooms, Robert Whitman, Jim Dine, Carolee Schneemann, Claes Oldenburg, Al Hansen, George Brecht, Yoko Ono, and the musicians Dick Higgins, Philip Corner, and LaMonte Young. However, the Happeners-Kaprow in 1966 reckoned there were "more than forty men and women 'doing' some kind of Happening"-never constituted an identifiable group as such.117 The term Happening was widely accepted, although the Happeners understood it in quite different ways and variously described their work as "play," "event," "act," "activity," or "performance."118 By the mid-1960s there were as many definitions of Happening as there were Happeners. Oldenburg, for one, distinguished between emotional and rational camps. The emotional camp, as he saw it, was rooted in an Expressionist tradition that went all the way back to German Expressionist film and the Surrealist environments of Salvador Dalì and Marcel Duchamp via Antonin Artaud's theory of theater and culminated in Happenings like Grooms's The Burning Building and Oldenburg's own Autobodies. By contrast, again in Oldenburg's view, the rational camp took its lead from Cage's anti-Expressionism, which paved the way for Kaprow's Happenings.119 Kaprow, for his part, felt that Oldenburg's approach had more to do with theater than with Happenings.120
The New York Happeners soon realized that they were not alone. Inspired by Hans Namuth's film of Jackson Pollock, the Gutai Group in Osaka was already making a name for itself among the wider public with an article in Life, a front-page report in the New York Times on 8 December 1957, and an exhibition at the Martha Jackson Gallery in 1958.121 Georges Matthieu's paint actions, also inspired by Pollock; Yves Klein's performances with "living paintbrushes"; Wolf Vostell's texts and Happenings; Daniel Spoerri's Environments; Niki de Saint-Phalle's Tableaux-Tirs; and early works by the Viennese Actionists, such as Blood Organ, were all conceived in pursuit of artistic aims that were at least comparable to those of the American Happeners. Exhibitions such as The Art of Assemblage (1961) at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, Bewogen-Beweging (Motion in Art) (1961) and Dylaby (Dynamic Labyrinth) (1962), both at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, and The Nouveaux Réalistes (1962) at the Sidney Janis Gallery in New York were among the earliest attempts to introduce certain individual positions, above all in the field of Environments, into the museum world as part of an international phenomenon.
Despite their conceptual and historical differences, the parallels between these groups encouraged their members to invite one another to present lectures and performances, to organize festivals, to actively acknowledge each other's work, and thus to establish a distinct identity for this new movement. The Happeners and the Fluxus artists-some felt an allegiance to both movements-established a loose international network. As Paul Schimmel has aptly pointed out, "The necessity of travel associated with performance work allowed and encouraged an extraordinary degree of interaction that brought the studio into the world arena."122 Initially this network formed what might be described as a shadow art world, an alternative to the already established network of galleries, collectors, and museums. This formed the backdrop to the subsequent ground swell of sometimes only short-lived associations, distribution organs, exhibition centers, and journals. The improvised, semi-ironic, semiserious formation of pseudo-bureaucratic structures by the members of these art networks led to a specific aesthetic that saw the emergence of the Multiple-inexpensive to produce and easily transportable-and a delight in bureaucratic accoutrements such as stamps, forms, boxes, files, and cases. The often cited simultaneity of the work being produced by artists in the United States, Europe, and Japan-supposedly working entirely independently of one another-turned the art-historical topography of that time into somewhat daunting territory that academic art historians did not dare venture into for many years. Even with the canonization of Happenings and Fluxus in the 1990s the situation remained blurred. In 1998 the exhibition Out of Actions drew together a rich array of materials. However, the organizers' museological determination to create an overarching art-historical context led them, in effect, to obscure the deep-seated differences between the European and the American art of that time.
From the late 1950s onward, Happenings in New York followed hard on one another's heels. They took place in converted factory buildings, artists' studios, and backyards or in newly opened galleries such as the Reuben Gallery, mentioned earlier, and the Judson Gallery.123 In August 1958, at the Sun Gallery in the artists' colony in Provincetown, Massachusetts, Grooms presented a paint action titled A Play Called Fire. His Happening The Burning Building took place from 4 to 11 December 1959, just two months after 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, in a studio on Delancy Street, which Grooms had summarily renamed the Delancy Street Museum.124 Whereas Kaprow's Happenings were presented according to a precise plan, following extended rehearsals, and in comparatively elaborate surroundings, Grooms deployed the simplest of means, such as painted cardboard, plain costumes and makeup, two light bulbs, a candle, and a radio receiver. According to Grooms, The Burning Building stemmed from his love of private backyard theatricals and the ambience of old circuses and playhouses he remembered from his childhood in Tennessee.125 The actors were given a vague plot outline and could decide for themselves, depending on how the audience reacted, how long the performance would be-usually it lasted about ten minutes. Unlike Kaprow, Grooms encouraged his actors to improvise, and Michael Kirby recalls that on the first night, they were still preparing for the performance when the first members of the audience arrived.126
In February and March 1960 there were two events at the Judson Gallery-Ray Gun Show and Ray Gun Spex-with Environments and performances of Happenings by Dine, Oldenburg, Higgins, Whitman, and Kaprow. Oldenburg showed his Environment The Street, an "epic construction" in the form of a street made from paper, wood, and wire, which served as the backdrop for the Happening Snapshots from the City; he subsequently presented this Environment at the Reuben Gallery.127 Dine showed The House, an Environment full of items from a domestic interior, painted scraps of canvas, and paper. Kaprow presented the Happening Coca-Cola, Shirley Cannonball?, in the tradition of Bauhaus theater; hidden in a kind of cardboard telephone box and an oversize boot, respectively, Dine and Oldenburg featured as actors in this piece. Dine's first Happening, The Smiling Workman, made a mockery of the heroic image of an artist engaged in Action Painting. Dressed entirely in red, with his face painted red and his lips black, he appeared in front of a set made of white canvases. Using orange and blue paint, he then wrote the words I love what I'm doing on the canvas backdrop. Next he drank a pot of red "paint" (actually tomato juice), tipped another pot of paint over his head, and jumped through the canvas. According to Dine, the whole thing lasted less than thirty seconds: "It was like a drawing."128
Many Happenings were mutually referential. No doubt diligent research would identify iconographic mores that avid Happenings-goers at the time would have understood. Grooms enthused over the tactile and olfactory properties of certain materials: "Oh, the joys of a woodpile, cardboard, canvas, and glue, and paint."129 Like Grooms, Dine abandoned this medium after 1960: "It was taking too much from my painting, which I really wanted to do."130 Oldenburg's Happenings, like those of Dine and Grooms, were closely connected with his work as a painter.131 His main emphasis was on their colorful impact as tableaux; after each show, he offered certain elements for sale as "residual objects," that is to say, autonomous works of art.132 Circus (Ironworks/Fotodeath), which he presented at the Reuben Gallery in February 1961, had a structural similarity to 18 Happenings in 6 Parts. It consisted of a series of thirty-four events, each divided into a sequence of overlapping scenes and separated from the next event by an interval. After Oldenburg's Store had been open for two months, he presented Ray Gun Theater in the same premises as that piece, between February and May 1962; this comprised a series of Happenings including Store Day I and II, Injun (N.Y.C.) I and II, Voyages I and II, Nekropolis I and II, and World's Fair I and II.133 While Kaprow inspired the structure of Oldenburg's Happenings, he himself learned from Oldenburg's methods-the dramatization of Happening by means of a plotline, the use of personification and eroticism. However, in both their work the last was in fact confined to stylized female personae and the use of female characters as projection figures for male fantasies. When it comes to the representation of eroticism and sexuality, Oldenburg's and Kaprow's Happenings pale in comparison with Environments such as Yayoi Kusama's Sex Obsession Food Obsession Macaroni Infinity Nets Kusama (1962) or even Schneemann's staged performances of Eye Body (1963) or her Happening Meat Joy (1964).
It is only posthumously, since the retrospective of 2006-2007, that Kaprow has been included in the canon of mainstream art-if we take this to consist of the artists who have played a prominent part in museum exhibitions since the 1960s. There has never been a place for him in the canon of any alternative history of art. With the exception of Gavin Butt, the leading lights in performance studies have paid scant attention to Kaprow. Although the story of Performance Art could hardly have unfolded as it did without Kaprow, he does not feature in the otherwise innovative and differentiated history of this academic field. Yet it is only to be expected that he does not fit in with the main issues of the alternative art scene. As the "father" of the Happening and as one of the most influential figures in American college life, this heterosexual white artist in effect embodied a distinctly patriarchal structure. He is very much part of the male genealogy of art history, even if the resonance of his name tends to shroud the fact that his work as such is not at all well known. He admitted that up until the early 1970s he was blind to feminism.134
In the 1960s his use of the human body, his own and those of the other participants in his pieces, was entirely conventional. At that time, isolated female bodies in his Happenings-naked, seminaked, or fully clothed-served first and foremost as allegorical embodiments, in pieces such as A Spring Happening, Courtyard, Orange, and A Service for the Dead. When there was a group of female actors, they were generally dressed in street wear; the same can be said of the male actors. Kaprow himself was involved in most of his Happenings, always in the role of someone prepared to get his hands dirty, with his sleeves rolled up, in jeans; at sweat-inducing Happenings he would appear as a manual worker with a bare torso. Inspired by-but not an institutional member of-performance studies, I would like at this point to turn to the body image of Kaprow's art. My particular interest here is in the way that the human bodies in his events related both to one another and to the space around them, with specific reference to the power relationships between the actors, between the artist and the actors, and between the actors and the spectators, as well as-as in 18 Happenings in 6 Parts-Kaprow's presentation of labor.
Having turned attention to the audience as a gathering of spectators with specific knowledge, expectations, and misapprehensions in 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, Kaprow continued to develop this theme in the years to come. A Spring Happening was typical of the demands he put on the spectator. Kaprow presented this piece in March 1961 on the ground floor of the Reuben Gallery, not long after Dine's Car Crash and Whitman's The American Moon and before Oldenburg opened his Store not far away. The visitors, who had preregistered, had to enter a specially constructed narrow, dark corridor until they came to a standstill in complete darkness, packed together in single file.135 Kaprow called this structure a closet. It was around twenty feet long, seven feet high, and two feet wide; it had a floor and a ceiling, walls, and a curtain at each end.136 At eye level were small slits, covered with transparent plastic film, through which the walls of the gallery could be seen. As in an Environment, these walls were painted in red, blue, and white and covered with fabric, newspaper, roofing felt, and chicken wire. There were also sounds to accompany these sights. On the reinforced roof of the closet, out of sight of the visitors, were empty oil drums, an electric saw, and a floor polisher. Noises came from the loudspeakers, a foghorn, and a bell. Actors lit matches, flitted past the visitors as the lighting changed, enacted fights, and blundered about with cardboard boxes over their heads. An actor on the roof, rolling the oil drums around, started up the electric saw. Next he set to work on the roof panels with the floor polisher, directly above the visitors' heads.
The climax of the event was the entrance into the gallery space of a female performer wearing only beige tights; she came to a stop in the spotlight, with green vegetables hanging from her mouth-an iconographic allusion to the figure of Flora in Boticelli's Primavera. Two actors approached her and covered her with a piece of fabric. In the last sequence of A Spring Happening, an actor suddenly appeared at one end of the corridor, walking straight toward the visitors while pushing a running gasoline lawn mower. The visitors had to crowd closer and closer together since their only exit was now blocked by a fan blowing cool air into the corridor. Just before the lawn mower reached the first visitors the walls of the corridor fell outward, releasing its occupants. The lights went on and the visitors had their first sight of the room as a whole (see figure 8).
Throughout A Spring Happening, the visitors were at the mercy of their own voyeurism. They were hidden from the actors-except the man with the lawn mower-yet they were exposed to their fellow spectators. They could only look out of the closet through the small viewing slits and were never in control of what they could see, which was only revealed to them as fragments. After a while someone outside the closet smeared soap on the plastic film, so what was already a restricted field of vision was now blurred too. At the same time noises and sounds were bombarding the visitors. It was only after the final shock that they had a complete view of the situation. For a split second they had a bodily sensation of the new beginnings and birth that may be associated with spring, only for the Happening to end in that same moment.
Jeff Kelley interpreted this Happening as an attempt "to eliminate the audience." Kaprow himself remembered Marcel Duchamp (who attended the event with Max Ernst, Hans Richter, and Richard Huelsenbeck) "leaping nimbly out of the way." According to Kelley, Kaprow was endeavoring to drive out the old ghosts of art history and make an entirely new start. Kelley also pointed out the ambiguity of the word spring-the season after winter, people springing out of the way, springing a trap.137 What particularly interests me here is the situation Kaprow created, with people penned in a claustrophobic space and only freed at the last minute. The quasi-masochistic combination of seeing and being punished has echoes of stories by Edgar Allan Poe. At the same time this situation reads like an illustration of the words of John Dewey:
Space is room, Raum, and room is roominess, a chance to be, live and move. The very word "breathing-space" suggests the choking, the oppression that results when things are constricted. Anger appears to be a reaction in protest against fixed limitation of movement. Lack of room is denial of life, and openness of space is affirmation of its potentiality. Overcrowding, even when it does not impede life, is irritating. What is true of space is true of time. We need a "space of time" in which to accomplish anything significant.138
Oldenburg was also out to "reward" his sensation-seeking spectators' curiosity with a strange sense of irritation. In Circus (Ironworks/Fotodeath), in February 1961, he first made the audience wait around in the darkness before the performance began. And Whitman's Happenings The American Moon and Mouth also deliberately tried the spectators' patience with long waiting times, cramped conditions, and a poor view of the proceedings. It was after attending Kaprow's A Spring Happening that Susan Sontag wrote the first extended art-critical essay on Happenings. In "Happenings: An Art of Radical Juxtaposition," she specifically homed in on what the spectators had to endure: "The audience may be made to stand uncomfortably in a crowded room, or fight for space to stand on boards laid in a few inches of water. There is no attempt to cater to the audience's desire to see everything.139
In Sontag's estimation, this "abusive involvement of the audience" was the actual point of these Happenings.140 She traced them back to Surrealism, partly in terms of their use of "radical juxtaposition (the 'collage principle')" and shock tactics at the expense of the audience. Her main point of reference here was Artaud's prescriptions in The Theater and Its Double, which perfectly matched three fundamental aspects of a Happening: "First, its supra-personal or impersonal treatment of persons; second, its emphasis on spectacle and sound, and disregard for the word; and third, its professed aim to assault the audience."141 She concluded that Happenings were ultimately comedic and, as such, typical of the Modernist view of life. This was the main message of her essay:
At this point the Surrealist arts of terror link up with the deepest meaning of comedy: the assertion of invulnerability. ... No matter how much they scream or prance about or inveigh to heaven or lament their misfortune, the audience knows they are really not feeling very much. The protagonists of great comedy all have something of the automaton or robot in them.... I, and other people in the audience, often laugh during Happenings.... I think we laugh because what goes on in the Happenings is, in the deepest sense, funny.142
Ever since it was first published, Sontag's essay has been a benchmark for the historiographic interpretation of Happenings. But its emphasis on the potential for aggression and destruction in certain Happenings has encouraged a distinct bias in their interpretation.143 To be precise, Sontag's analysis was based less on the New York Happenings than on Surrealist art of the 1930s; in neither Kaprow's nor Oldenburg's Happenings was the main focus on mechanized processes, as in ballet mécanique. Contrary to Sontag's claims regarding "invulnerability," these artists' Happenings were very much about specific instances of deep vulnerability. It may be, however, that the Happeners subsequently modified the role of the audience partly because of Sontag's observation that the spectators at a Happening became the scapegoats that any comedy requires. Whatever the case, the publication of Sontag's essay more or less coincided with the moment when Happenings, above all Kaprow's, saw audience members progress from beholders to participants-not merely in the spirit of Barnett Newman's and Mark Rothko's evocation of the sublime, in which the effects devised by the artist all but overwhelm the viewer, but actively and voluntarily as players or, metaphorically speaking, as consumers of the art on offer. Accordingly, the public now generally had to pay to go to a Happening, and there was often a limit on the number of participants. This was not a direct outcome of the Happeners' intentions or of the institutional circumstances-that is to say, the fact that commercial galleries and established theaters had little interest in Happenings. This dynamic relationship between the work of art and its audience was, however, a form of interaction that marked a new departure in the exhibiting of art, which was to have art-historical consequences that are still of interest almost half a century later.
A Service for the Dead
A Service for the Dead was presented in two parts, in March and August 1962. For the first time in Kaprow's work, the choice of venue was more important than the props. The Happening started in the foyer of the Maidman Playhouse in New York's West Forty-Second Street.144 It was part of the Poets Festival organized by the New York Poets Theatre, which also involved George Brecht, Robert Whitman, Niki de Saint-Phalle, Philip Corner, La Monte Young, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, Robert Rauschenberg, and Steve Paxton. An announcer-a figure used not only by Kaprow but also by Grooms and Oldenburg-invited the visitors to form a single file and follow a procession of musicians in costume.145 Accompanied by a cacophony of different instruments, the procession set off not into the auditorium but down a staircase, through a storeroom full of props, and past dressing rooms, some lit, some in darkness, some with radios switched on. A half-open door led into the boiler room-a cavelike space with old boilers, fuel tanks, and piles of metal left over from the days before the theater existed in its present form.
All the visitors' senses were aroused: the surroundings were black and brown, warm and damp. There was the smell of "rot and fuel fumes," water dripped from corroded pipes, and naked light bulbs illuminated the scene. Kaprow noted the conditions: "soot all over," "everything festering and damp," "clumps of rusted pipe, valves, electrical conduits, exposed wire, bent and broken."146 The musicians led the procession to the farthest reaches of the boiler room, where a naked actor (Lette Eisenhauer) loomed into view, lying motionless on a horizontal ladder suspended from the ceiling (see figure 9). The music stopped, and for a short time the musicians made a deafening row with the oil drums and trash cans suspended on ropes. Next they pointed their flashlights at tar-paper mounds throughout the room, with actors inside. These actors now started to tremble, to whistle, and to yelp. Sirens sounded, an actor lit a propane torch, flashlights switched on and off. The ladder began to sway, and the woman flung her arms apart, scattering torn paper over the visitors, then let her arms hang by her sides. Now the actors started to moan and hum, and the musicians started up again. As the visitors slowly made their way to the stairs, the woman was covered with a white sheet. Finally the visitors were guided out into the street along a route different from the one by which they had entered.
The trigger for this Happening had been the death of one of Kaprow's friends, a biographical motif, although the visitors were not informed of this.147 They were simply passive spectators, caught up in a spectacle. Kelley has rightly referred to ritualism in connection with the structure of this event, that is to say Kaprow's "formal, artistic, and ultimately mock adaptation of the idea of ritual. Ritualism allowed him to play at the seriousness of ceremonies, processions, and other liturgical forms of performance."148 In structure, A Service for the Dead is thus closely related to A Spring Happening: the members of the audience gather and line up in single file, only to be bombarded with sounds and light effects and confronted with a female nude, until they are finally released from their confinement and the tension is relieved. Unlike in A Spring Happening, the audience in A Service for the Dead sees itself as a crowd that is constantly in motion. Although they were physically under cover of darkness, there was no real distance between individual visitors, and the proximity of other bodies, the smell and feel of other people, and the sound of their whispers and giggles appealed to some and repelled others. Crowded together, some may have recalled childhood fears and anxiety dreams; others may have thought of acts of worship held below ground, of catacombs, or of scenarios in film noir and Expressionist cinema. As before, in A Spring Happening, Kaprow wore down the audience and made excessive demands of them. No doubt it was impossible for people to work out what the piece was about. However, unlike in A Spring Happening, the "plot" was not played out at a distance from the audience. Indeed, the title suggested that all the visitors would be participating in a service. Ultimately no one could escape the fact that he or she was mortal too and that, as a participant in this ritual, one was connecting with something existential that went far beyond the contingencies of the art world.
When it came to the second part of the Happening, A Service for the Dead II, which was presented (as part of the Ergo Suit Festival in late August 1962) at twilight one evening on the shores of the Atlantic Ocean at Bridgehampton, New York, the visitors were much more actively involved (see figure 10). Once again there was a procession that ended with a figure on a bier of sorts, but now the audience carried props-torches and placards, cardboard boxes, empty oil drums and a car tire. A number of "carpenters" built a wooden construction on the beach. The climax of the event was the entrance of ghostly, hooded figures, who interrupted the coffin makers at their work. The visitors then poured sand around these figures as they stood upright in pits, until only their heads were visible. Once again the main protagonist was a female actor; she appeared on the embankment near the end of the performance, "all shrouded in loosely wound plastic film," and was then carried a few paces out into the sea on the finished bier.149 The open Atlantic shoreline contrasted dramatically with the theater's claustrophobic, crowded basement. The sense of having been cowed into submission in the first part of the Happening was now dispelled as the visitors played roles of their own in the second part. As in many of his works of art, Kaprow employed the method of contrasts and formal tension that goes back to Hans Hofmann's teaching on composition. Whereas the previous venue had included a human-made boiler room where the passage of time had left its mark in the shape of rusting infrastructure, now nature provided the setting. The endless expanses of the Atlantic shore put human activity into perspective. But even here the landscape was not untouched, and it served as another metaphor for human activity, for, as Kelley points out, this part of Long Island was "known for the preponderance of psychiatrists who summered there, and this had prompted Kaprow to use the overwrought imagery of crossing the dunes from land to sea, symbolic of the divide between reason and unconscious."150
Calling was the first of Kaprow's Happenings that all but did without an audience.151 It took place on 21 and 22 August 1965, first in New York, then outside the city in a wood on George Segal's farm. After an introduction by Kaprow, the unrehearsed Happening began. The participants included Kaprow, his wife Vaughan Rachel, Michael Kirby, Peter Moore, Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, Robert Brown, Christo, Jeanne-Claude, and others. Three performers waited by the edge of the road until each was picked up and driven away in a car. During the journey other actors wrapped each of them in aluminum foil (see figure 11). Once the cars had come to a stop, with the silver foil-wrapped figures sitting motionless in the back seats, different drivers took over. The performers were unpacked from their foil wrappings by other actors, loaded into laundry bags, and unloaded at a public underground car park, where the bundles, tied shut, were loaded into different cars before being driven through the streets of Manhattan to Grand Central Station. There the three victims were carried on their abductors' shoulders into the main concourse and left to their own devices after being deposited, like foundlings, at the information booth. The performers inside the sacks called out to one another by name and finally freed themselves. Next they each dialed a particular telephone number, belonging to a person who had helped to drive or wrap them during the Happening. After the phone had rung at least fifty times, the other party answered the call. The victim asked if it was that person (stating the right name). The other party quietly hung up; that was the end of the first act of the Happening.
The next day the roles were reversed. Now the victims became the hunters. The other performers were divided into five groups; one member of each hung upside down from a tree in a sailcloth sling. The hunters moved through the wood, calling out names. As soon as they named a victim, his or her group would call out, "Here!" When the hunters found the victim they tore off his or her clothes and moved on. The naked participants hanging from the trees called out to one another until they got tired, at which point they freed themselves and left the wood, bringing the second part of the Happening to a close (see figure 12).
The leitmotif of Calling was the act of communication using the human voice. Communication in the widest sense triggered each sequence within the Happening-either a phone call, calling out other people's names, or "calling for" parcels. In each case it was clear that the form of communication in question was not a neutral interchange between two equal partners-that is to say, an equitable and reversible exchange. Instead it was an irreversible, unilateral, laborious demonstration of power. In the acts of collecting bundles, of calling out, and of making a telephone call there was an obvious distinction between active players and passive targets. And if the abducted victims are seen as the embodiments of media, then Kaprow's Happening can be read as a critique of the premise that meaning can easily be transferred. Calling is a demonstration of the fact that the medium is not a neutral vehicle but a highly sought-after raw material that different parties will fight over.
Like A Spring Happening, Calling can be seen as an allegory of the complexity of communication processes and the dubiousness of the notion of the unhindered circulation and exchangeability of goods, information, and meaning in the information society. At the same time-at least in terms of the episodes that took place within New York city-it was the Happening that made the most audacious contact with the general public and thus also turned the spotlight on the mechanisms of public life. The climax of the Happening was the moment when the speechless "media" were abandoned at the ultimate hub of communication-the information desk at Grand Central Station, surely the busiest place in all of North America. This was also the moment when innocent members of the public came into contact with the Happeners, only to be left as speechless as the cloth sacks. The abandoning of the human bundles clearly marked the boundaries of an art world that had to struggle to maintain contact with the outside world, with "life." The concealed "media" that passersby-both unsettled and amused-saw lying around helplessly were bewildering, impossible to decode. It is significant that when Kaprow was applying to the transport police for permission to put on an event in the station, he described it as a "rehearsal for a children's theater," partly so as not to run the risk of provoking members of the public and partly to avoid the high fees for any theatrical performance within the train station.152 It was precisely the unusual encounter of the public with the bundled-up performers that became the lasting image of the Happening in the annals of art history. Peter Moore's photograph of the three "mummies" and astounded onlookers is one of the iconic images of Happenings (see figure 13).
Unlike earlier Happenings, Calling had no audience as such. The Happeners were performing for themselves and one another. The representation of violence directed against the spectators in previous Happenings now focused instead on the performers' bodies. There is a self-evident affinity here with sadistic practices such as bondage-and in the score there is a specific instruction that the aluminum foil should be wrapped very tightly. How must the performers have felt as the others were encasing them in foil? How must they have felt when they were being driven blindfolded through New York? What was it like to be tied up in a sack and exposed to the stares of the thousands of commuters hurrying across the concourse at Grand Central Station? The slashing and tearing of the clothes of the performers helplessly dangling upside down from trees is similarly reminiscent of sadomasochist games. What can have been going through their heads as they waited to be released from their distressing situation? What sense of embarrassment would they have had to suppress to agree to be exposed like that in front of their friends and colleagues? The passive performers were entirely at the mercy of their active counterparts, who behaved like ruthless, preprogrammed robots. The victims in the sacks had to free themselves and communicate with the others in the same situation. Like A Service for the Dead, Calling exploits contrasts between confined and open spaces, between the urban and the natural landscape. Yet it shows that people in the asphalt jungle treat one another as roughly and violently as they do in a woodland. It is only the means that are different. And although the woodland is without technical equipment-cars and telephones-in both cases the human voice has the same role as anthropological constant.
If we take a semiotic approach to Calling, we naturally find ourselves comparing it to an earlier Kaprow Happening called Words. While communication in Words takes the form of written words and the passive absorption of snippets of mechanically recorded speech, in Calling language is not mediated as such; that is to say, as Roland Barthes put it later, the body-which gets lost during the process of writing down-is present once again. This happens partly through utterances such as "Hello, hello, can you hear me?": "Unassuming as they are, these words and expressions are yet in some way discreetly dramatic: they are appeals, modulations-should I say, thinking of birds: songs?-through which a body seeks another body. It is this song-gauche, flat, ridiculous when written down-which is extinguished in our writing."153
Calling is, not least, also an homage to Kaprow's colleague, neighbor, and friend George Segal, who had hosted the Happenings Pastorale in spring 1958 and Tree in May 1963 on his farm. The motif of wrapping up human bodies recalls Segal's work. He made a name for himself with Environments including plaster effigies of human beings placed alongside various found objects; in 1962 he represented the United States at the São Paulo Biennial. In 1964 Kaprow published an article in Art News on his work, titled "Segal's Vital Mummies." No doubt Calling was in part about the act of wrapping up a friend's body, which was central to Segal's workat the time, described here by Kaprow:
By wrapping bandages dipped in wet plaster around the parts of their bodies, cutting off the hardened sections, then later reassembling them into the whole body, he "touches" them and possesses them physically and psychically with a contact that would be possible in no other way. Both for him and for us, he evokes their presence; they are almost real because they have substance and a name. Yet at the same time he embalms them. These stark, motionless figures, nearly mummies, frozen in some ordinary hour of their day, remain in an endless trance, blanched of color, communicating with no one.154
During the 1960s there was an ever-growing appetite for Happenings. By the mid-1960s Kaprow could strive for only a quantitative increase. He even answered a request for a publicity stunt Happening from the cigarette makers Liggett Myers Tobacco Company, of New York. (As it turned out, his proposal was not realized.) At the same time, Happenings were shifting ever further from the art world. For Kaprow, the Happening Gas, in the summer of 1966, was a high point in his work, but in a certain sense it also heralded the end of the Happening as a genre. It was a coproduction by the television company WCBS-TV and the Dwan Gallery, which later also championed Earthworks by Robert Smithson and Michael Heizer. Gas was presented during the course of three days, from August 6 to August 8, at various locations on Long Island and involved countless "volunteers," as the television commentator called them. Among other things, several tons of extinguishing foam were pumped into a pit, where performers, especially children, cavorted in it. Huge balloons were inflated inside buildings and on the beach. Nurses were rolled down the street on beds, and people undertook joint ferry crossings. I read Gas as an (ironic) allegory of Kaprow's situation at the time. The leitmotif was expansion-be it in the form of inflated balloons, processions running off the rails, or orgiastic foam fights. Thus the title, with its connotations of gasoline, vapor, and also, in the more slangy sense, fun, can be seen in relation to the idea that Fredric Jameson articulated much later, namely the expansion of the sphere of culture at the cost of its autonomy.155
The final nail in the coffin of the Happening as an artistic undertaking was not Kaprow's Gas but the event Nine Evenings. Nine Evenings could perhaps be described as the monumentalization and popularization of John Cage's mysterious Untitled Event, which had taken place well away from the general public, in the isolation of Black Mountain College. The fact that Nine Evenings was a huge flop meant that there were no more Happenings in the United States. It consisted of a series of performances by Cage, Lucinda Childs, Oeyvind Fahlström, Alex Hay, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Rauschenberg, Tudor, and Whitman presented on nine evenings in October 1966 in the great hall of the Sixty-Ninth Regiment Armory in New York City.156 The reason for the event was the founding of the organization Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) in September 1966. E.A.T., the brainchild of the engineer Billy Klüver and Rauschenberg, was devised to promote mutually beneficial contacts between artists and engineers. Cage presented Variations VII, which used sounds from locations in the city-a police station, a restaurant, an editors' office-that were transmitted by telephone to the Armory, where he then manipulated them in various ways. Rauschenberg showed Open Score, a Happening that began with a tennis ball and ended with the entrance in darkness of five hundred actors, made visible in images produced by infrared cameras. As an organization, E.A.T. combined the synesthetic utopias of the interwar years with the euphoric enthusiasm for technology that was rife in the United States during the Cold War. Kaprow was not among the participants at this mega-event. Although he had made several attempts to work with E.A.T., it always declined his proposals, perhaps because of his unmistakable skepticism regarding the organization's unmitigated belief in progress and technology. Moreover, his absence from Nine Evenings, which took place at the same time as his midcareer retrospective in Pasadena, was symptomatic of the distance that was opening up between him and the mainstream art of the day.
The Triumph of Pop Art
The fact that the art scene could expand no more, since the art public was steadily reaching saturation point, was one of the reasons why Happenings disappeared in the mid-1960s. However, the fact that the art world forgot them for so long can be put down to the way that art historians fell silent on this subject. This steady silence was closely connected with the advent of Pop Art as the mainstream art form of the early 1960s. Let us therefore take this opportunity to look back at how art historians and curators reinforced Pop Art's rise in their writing.
"Pop art was radical and came as a surprise," Henry Geldzahler wrote in 1969 in his influential exhibition catalogue New York Painting and Sculpture: 1940-1970. In this catalogue he devotes precisely one comment to the subject of Happenings in the late 1950s, which he sees alongside "new painting and sculpture with recognizable subject matter" as an "alternative to Abstract Expressionism."157 At the end of the 1960s he thus took the opposite stance to the view he had first expressed in 1963 that Pop Art was an "inevitable" phenomenon, one that "we can recognize [as] a movement literally before it fully happens."158 Geldzahler was one of the leading figures in the historicization of Pop Art and its introduction into American art institutions, even as it was still under way.159 He "typifies the interconnections of roles in the system very well," was the comment of Lawrence Alloway (who was similarly adept at creating these interconnections).160 As the curator for contemporary art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, as a critic, and as an exhibition maker he was to the 1960s what AlfredH. Barr was to the 1940s and Walter Hopps and Harald Szeemann were to the 1970s. It was Geldzahler-who admitted in 1970 that he enjoyed watching movies more than anything else ("It's a visual experience that exists in time. Instead of looking at a painting and looking away and knowing everything about it, it is something to engage"), had been omnipresent in the Happenings scene, and remarked that his participation in Happenings "got me over my stage fright"161-who ensured that Pollock's legacy, which Kaprow had wanted to claim for Happenings in 1958, passed to Pop Art. Accordingly Pop Art was seen as the legitimate heir to high modern art. The Happenings were left out in the cold. At best there might be a mention of their influence or a passing reference to their importance as a transitional stage on the margins of art history. Over the years those art historians who have written on Happeners have been less interested in the ironically critical stand they took against the logic of Late Modernist painting than in the structural and formal aspects of their work-its transience, for instance.
Happenings were temporarily written out of art history; they were not included in the canon of art, so it would not have to be changed. With certain exceptions, such as Yard, Kaprow's works disappeared from the collective art memory. Carolee Schneemann's works were rediscovered in the 1990s in the wake of the postfeminist revision of art history. Oldenburg's Happenings and films, in which Geldzahler also participated, were regarded as separate from his main body of work. The "early work" of artists such as Red Grooms, George Segal, Lucas Samaras, and Jim Dine was simply ignored. The leading art institutions in New York-notably the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art-in effect neutralized the critical potential of Happenings by categorizing them as a stylistic consequence of Dada and Surrealism. During the 1960s, while art historians were removing the "Neo-Dada" and "Neo-Surrealism" labels from Pop Art, art-historical reminiscences of the artists of the classical avant-garde sidelined the long overdue museological presentation of Happenings. The Museum of Modern Art celebrated these artists' work in retrospectives such as Futurism (1961) and Dada, Surrealism, and Their Heritage (1968), accompanied by scholarly, authoritative catalogues. Looking back, Geldzahler recollected that art catalogues were among his most important reading matter as a boy in the 1940s.162
At a symposium on 13 December 1962 at the Museum of Modern Art, a round-table discussion chaired by Peter Selz, with Dore Ashton, Geldzahler, Hilton Kramer, Stanley Kunitz, and Leo Steinberg, laid the ground for Pop Art's entry into the art-historical canon. Geldzahler spoke of Pop Art as not only a development in the tradition of high art but also a reflection of the "best and most developed post-Abstract Expressionist painting," as seen in the work of artists such as Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Ray Parker, and Frank Stella.163 Although, as he pointed out later, he always favored (and collected) Kelly and Noland and had the same distanced relationship with both Pop Art and Minimal Art, each of which he viewed as a "phenomenon that can't be ignored," he nevertheless established the formalist interpretation of Pop Art.164 Only Kramer-albeit taking a slightly derogatory view-made a close connection between Pop Art and Happenings: the aim of both was "to restore to complex and recognizable experience its former hegemony over pure aestheticism."165
Lucy Lippard's book Pop Art, published in 1966, reinforced and popularized Geldzahler's view. Lippard, who had worked in the library of the Museum of Modern Art in the early 1960s and been involved in the production of the catalogue The Art of Assemblage in 1961, regarded Pop Art as wholly rooted in Abstract Expressionism and its formalist tradition. Moreover, in her view its art-historical significance derived from its role as the heir to Abstract Expressionism and the extent to which it advanced the tradition of American high art on its way toward Hard Edge. In her introduction she wrote, "Pop Art has more in common with the American 'post-painterly abstraction' of Ellsworth Kelly or Kenneth Noland than with contemporary realism."166 The contradictory argumentation of Lippard's legitimation of Pop Art reflects her confusing historical analysis of that period as a whole. While casting Fernand Léger and Marcel Duchamp in the role of "most valid prototypes," she resists the use of the term Neo-Dada as a description for Pop Art.167 She also felt that undue attention had been paid not only to Robert Motherwell's book Dada Painters but also to John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. In the chapter "New York Pop" she mentions Happenings only because of the connection between the Green Gallery and the Reuben Gallery.168 In Lippard's opinion the real pop artists were Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein, James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselmann, and Claes Oldenburg, and she believed Pop Art was "discovered" in spring 1961 when Richard Bellamy, Ivan Karp, and Leo Castelli saw work by Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, and Warhol: "Recognizing their importance, they also understood that these artists provided the missing link between Assemblage and hard-edge abstraction, and had independently arrived at something new."169 Furthermore, Pop Art had nothing to do with "story-telling or social comment": "These artists do not see themselves as destroyers of art, but as the donors of a much-needed transfusion to counteract the effects of a rarified Abstract Expressionist atmosphere."170 Lippard's reference to "story-telling or social comment" is as striking as her evident fear of the destruction of art. The nonrecognition of the narrative and critical aspects of Pop Art cut out all the factors that connected it with the intentions of the Happeners. The exponents of Pop Art were welcome, as we apprehend from Lippard's analysis, explicitly as the new blood needed in aging Late Modernist circles. This interpretation of Pop Art colored its historiography until well into the 1990s.171
Not until the 1990s was there a renewed interest in Happenings, although this was primarily a consequence of the drive by museums and art institutions to complete and confirm the established view of the history of the mid-twentieth century rather than revise it in any way.172 The exhibitions that Paul Schimmel organized at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles played a central role in these developments. Writing in the catalogue for the 1992 exhibition Hand Painted Pop: American Art in Transition 1955-1962, he reiterated the continuous line of development from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art. The theme of that exhibition was the "extraordinarily active period of transition between two great eras," and its aim was to counter the supposedly widely held notion that Pop Art constituted a break with Abstract Expressionism, although Schimmel also took the view that the "myth" of Abstract Expressionism was fully activated only by Pop Art.173
Of course there is every reason to take a closer look at that "transitional" period and to present, in context, paintings and sculptures by lesser-known artists from that time. However, the intention of diverse professionals in the field was specifically to fill in certain gaps in recent art history to confirm that the established canon reflected a logical continuity advancing from one great phase of American art to the next. Depending on the contents of different museum collections, the artists pressed into service ranged from Johns and Rauschenberg to "early" Oldenburg, Lichtenstein, Dine, Rosenquist, Segal, and Warhol, who all worked quite independently of one another-a point that was frequently emphasized, as if the stylistic coherence of their work were "natural." A key role was credited to reliefs from Oldenburg's Store; in 1983 the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, had bought the largest single ensemble of these reliefs en bloc from the Italian collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo. Since then they have frequently appeared in publications and featured prominently in highly influential exhibitions such as Out of Actions (1998).174
The model that presents Abstract Expressionism and Pop Art as polar opposites obscures the fact that Abstract Expressionism was never the self-contained, hegemonic phenomenon that it may appear to be in hindsight.175 It also obscures the fact that there were a number of coexistent artistic positions in the 1950s that by no means toed the usual line of Abstract Expressionism, including those of the artists in the Jewish Museum's 1957 exhibition Artists of the New York School: Second Generation. Moreover, the interpretation of Pop Art voiced at the 1962 symposium did not go unchallenged. Aside from the conservative stance taken by some participants, who rejected Pop Art out of hand-Geldzahler later pointed out that he had to defend Pop against the curators at the Museum of Modern Art-and aside from the entrenched antipathy of the European critics, there was also the interpretation of Pop Art as part of the critique of Late Modernist painting that was intrinsic to Happenings.176 Lil Picard, for instance-an artist, participant in various Happenings, and correspondent for the German newspaper Die Welt-took the line in her "New Yorker Pop-Report" that the Happenings marked the beginning of Pop Art.177 Lawrence Alloway, who is credited with the invention of the name Pop Art, tentatively lent his weight to this interpretation. Alloway, who had moved to New York from London, described the Reuben Gallery artists as exponents of Pop Art "used as a comprehensive term." In his eyes, their "shared quality" was "anti-ceremonious, anti-formal, untidy, and highly physical (but not highly permanent)," and they also had in common an "interest in stretching and violating the borders of art."178
Kaprow of course also put forward his views on Pop Art. In his lecture at the Jewish Museum in March 1963 he was openly critical of the symposium at the Museum of Modern Art. As in many of his texts, an introductory homage is followed by a series of provocative statements. Kaprow makes reference to the nostalgia of Pop Art, with its motifs from the consumer society of the 1930s and 1940s-the days when the Pop artists were children and adolescents-to describe it, unlike Action Painting, as backward looking rather than of the present moment. Instead of seeking to come closer to commercial art and life itself, Pop Art (in Kaprow's estimation) said "more about art than the world."179 Its real achievement was that it questioned notions of "what art should actually be." But, for Kaprow, Pop Art was only at the beginning of its journey:
The pop artist still has to put his mind to what he is and to the context in which he wants to present his work. Up until now he has been content to be associated with elegant life, aesthetes, wheelers and dealers in the art business, the editors of modern magazines. His arena is the sophisticated sanctuary of art galleries, museums, art institutes.... That is far too timid, it smacks too much of the hothouse.180
As he so often did, Kaprow argued here against the principle of l'art pour l'art. Alluding to Warhol and Wesselman's work as window dressers, he reminded his audience that Pop paintings functioned better in a commercial context than in a gallery.
Still too precious for its own good, Pop Art has to get out into the fresh air. It should be out there in the street ... The buzz in the street has to change, and Times Square needs precisely the kick in the pants that Pop Art can give it. Imagine huge billboards between the towers of Washington Bridge! ... Imagine writing in the sky, flyers in the literal sense of the word ... What miraculous, wonderful things could happen in the aisles of American supermarkets! ... And if gallery directors have concerns about the practicality of my suggestions, they needn't lose sleep over them: they can steer the careers of these new ad men from the comfort of their own desks, they can turn their galleries into agencies with themselves as art directors.181
The discussion at that time surrounding Pop Art was not merely a game played by academics in art institutes. The advent of Pop Art can be seen, as Kaprow did, as an indication of the transfer of power in the art world from the producers-the artists-to the mediators and art administrators. Let it be said, however, that my aim here is not to take the moral high ground and apply some form of conspiracy theory to the ensuing conflict. The cliché of the good artists on one side and the bad institutions on the other is just as inadequate as the categorical separation of producers, consumers, and administrators-particularly since, during the 1960s, some artists took on the mantle of curators while certain curators also had aspirations to artistic activity. It is rather more interesting to ask why it was that in the 1960s art institutions suddenly started to meddle with the production process and how exactly they did this. Were American art museums anxious that they might be losing ground, that collectors could overtake them, that they might not spot the latest ism, or that they might lose sight of art altogether?
In the 1980s and 1990s the European museums were keen not to replicate these failings. The result was a veritable flowering of museums for contemporary art that have been springing from the ground since the 1980s. Toward the end of a decade marked by a cascade of different styles and animated rivalries between artists, collectors, critics, and historians-all striving for some kind of normative authority-it was the art institutions that emerged triumphant. Significantly, these institutions were no longer dependent on the architectural confines of particular museums. They could be personified equally well in the shape of leading exhibition makers, such as Richard Bellamy and Walter Hopps in the United States and Harald Szeemann, followed by Kasper König and Peter Weibel, in Europe. Szeemann in particular epitomized this role in the 1970s when he founded his "agency for intellectual guest workers," that is to say, presented himself as an art institution and, in so doing, instigated the European comeback on the main stage of the art world.
The Nonentry of Happenings into the Art Museum
In 1960 William Seitz, at the time an associate curator at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, was working on an extensive exhibition, The Art of Assemblage, which was to open in the spring of 1961 and include the very latest work in this field.182 It was part of the museum's endeavor to shake off its image as a conservative institution with its sights still set on Classical Modernist European painting and, in so doing, to extend the reach of its cultural authority to include contemporary art. The museum had already demonstrated its intentions in this respect by purchasing a group of works at Leo Castelli's early-1958 Jasper Johns exhibition and by stepping in early and buying pieces by Oldenburg and Richard Stankiewicz. The Art of Assemblage was also to provide an overview of various smaller exhibitions on the same subject that had taken place elsewhere-including An Exhibition of Collages and Constructions (Alan Gallery, New York, January 1959), Out of the Ordinary: The Audience as Subject (Contemporary Arts Association, Houston, November-December 1959), and, at MoMA itself, Sixteen Americans (December 1959) and of course Jean Tinguely's Homage to New York: A Self-Constructing and Self-Destroying Work of Art (17 March 1960).
It goes without saying that the Happenings, which in part had alerted the art world to the problematic hegemony of nonfigurative painting, would have fitted perfectly into the context of The Art of Assemblage. Kaprow in fact saw that this would be a unique opportunity for the new medium to make its mark and did his best to have it included in this important event. He provided Seitz with a copy of the manuscript for his planned book on Happenings, "Paintings, Environments and Happenings," which Seitz referred to in his catalogue essay and listed in the bibliography.183 Clearly it was worth Kaprow's while to make every effort to have his work sanctioned by the museum that had the greatest influence on contemporary art and to have his views disseminated in an extensive catalogue. He even went so far as to conceive the Environment Chapel for this show; the notable difference between this work and his earlier Environments was that visitors to Chapel would be able to change it as they wished. The plan was that Kaprow and five other artists would paint long rolls of paper red and white in a specified area in the museum; the public would then be invited to continue where the artists had left off. Anyone who wanted to could do what they liked with what had already been painted-leave it as it was, destroy it, extend it.
Seitz rejected Kaprow's proposal. It is evident from Kaprow's written reply to the letter of rejection that Seitz regarded this type of intervention as "not appropriate" for the museum and "problematic because of fire hazard." However, Kaprow was keen to salvage whatever he could. He agreed that his project cast doubt on the traditional role of the museum, "BUT ... I wonder if a museum's function cannot change." He recalled the Museum of Modern Art's pioneering achievements in museum education and asked whether it was not in any case already changing "from an institution dedicated to displaying gravestones to a place where things 'happen.'" He was entirely open about his own interest in the matter:
My personal motives ... needn't be hidden: For my work to exist I need public places ... larger rather than smaller-and especially places where an interested public will naturally gravitate. The more up-to-date museum can serve this function. Furthermore, the obvious focus and prestige a museum confers upon any work it exhibits may attract those spirited but wealthy individuals who might feel drawn to this new work, enough to support it in its more congenial habitat: nature, vacant lots, armories, factories, etc. You know that it cannot be bought and must, if it is going to develop, be subsidized in some fashion. Such rich men never seem to come to us where we presently "flourish".184
At the end of the letter Kaprow once again pulls out all the art-historical stops, appealing to Seitz's sense of the shared lineage of the Museum of Modern Art and Kaprow's work, which he noted was rooted in the art of Claude Monet (via Cubism, Piet Mondrian, and Jackson Pollock), and pointing out that, in terms of art history, it was only logical that the barriers between artists, art, the public, the past, and the present should progressively be broken down. Kaprow's letter shows that at this early stage in the history of Happenings he had no intention whatsoever to launch an attack on the institution of the art museum. On the contrary, he was doing his level best to join the mainstream.
We cannot know for certain whether the possible inclusion of Happenings in The Art of Assemblage was actively debated during its planning stages.185 But the fact remains that Seitz makes detailed reference to Happenings-he uses the term in quotation marks-in the catalogue. He points out their key role in recent art history in general and in the theme of the exhibition in particular. Seitz's essay was the first institutional recognition of the Happening as an artistic phenomenon. It juxtaposed a black-and-white photograph of Dine's Car Crash (1960) with an image of Tinguely's Homage to New York. In addition, Seitz included in the exhibition George Brecht's Repository (1961), two of Rauschenberg's "Combine-paintings," from the Ileana Sonnabend collection (Talisman  and Canyon ), a relief by Samaras (Untitled [1960-1961]), and an assemblage by Stankiewicz (Untitled ). Seitz's ambivalent position as a museum curator with an eye on both the past and the future is reflected in the somewhat convoluted passage toward the end of his essay in which he describes Happenings as, among other things, "amateur theatricals": "The challenge presented to the plastic arts by the new wave of assemblage should nevertheless not be evaded, but surely pseudo innovation should never be embraced because it seems to be le dernier cri."186
However, the edge may have been taken off Kaprow's disappointment by the fact that in 1961 he showed Chapel three times. It went to Amsterdam and Stockholm, as Stockroom, and to the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, as Chapel. But for Happenings as an art form the rejection from MoMA was the first-and probably decisive-setback in being recognized by leading art institutions. The die was already cast at MoMA in favor of Pop Art-and against Happenings-even before the phenomenon of Pop Art was in sight. For Kaprow at least, the rejection of Happenings by the most influential institution set in train a critique of institutional exhibition praxis. Whereas previously he had put his energy into having his work accepted by art museums and galleries and had hoped, at most, to see existing institutional structures reformed, now-nolens volens-he found himself at a distance from the establishment. At the same time, as though to compensate for the lack of institutional approval, he intensified his efforts regarding the interpretation and historicization of his art. This was the sequence of events that formed the backdrop to his second major article in Art News.
"Happenings in the New York Scene"
The publication of Kaprow's article "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock" had brought home to him just how effective a text and buzzwords could be in advancing the cause of an artistic program. He now determinedly cultivated his reputation as the inventor of the Happening and looking back in 1968 wrote to Harold Rosenberg that the mere invention of a name or descriptive term for an art trend-such as Rosenberg's Action Painting and his own Happenings-could lay the foundations for success:
For some time I've suspected that ... persuasion begins with a poetic act, the disclosure of one or two metaphors which appear to capsule an artist's or theorist's sense of things. Later, they may transform into other guises of media, or into genuine discourse, but the point of departure may be a matter of a lucky catch-word.... It doesn't make much difference if Cubism has or has not to do with cubes, if Futurism has or hasn't to do with the future. What matters is that those words unleashed terrific energies. They marked for the artists the beginning or the end of what they were doing, and charged them up for a reaction that would lead them to new territories.187
The Happenings, which were witnessed by such a small, select audience and could only ever be reproduced in the most fragmentary form, had a particular need for an explanation. Since art history was his trade, it was only natural that Kaprow would also concern himself with the historiography and theory of Happenings-all the more so since the critics were clearly not putting any energy into promoting this new medium. By 1960 he had already started to collect material for a book. It finally appeared in 1966 as Assemblage, Environments and Happenings-a richly illustrated, lavish volume produced by the prestigious New York publisher Harry Abrams. In spring 1961 Kaprow published his second article in Art News, "Happenings in the New York Scene." Described by Susan Sontag as "the best article to appear on Happenings," it picked up the same thread as "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock."188 Once again the main line of argument was a critique of the image of the modern artist, the modern art world, and modern art theory. No doubt one of Kaprow's motives was to establish, in a leading art publication, his credentials as the inventor of Happenings. But this-perfectly understandable-intention is less remarkable than the fact that, as he had done in "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock," Kaprow made an art-historical leap forward.
He discussed the new phenomenon-and by definition his own work-as though looking back at it from some point in the future. Once again he turned the spotlight on the artist who is both part of the system and excluded from it. He expressed the fear that Happenings would fall victim to the gravitational force of Modernism. In the midst of the euphoria of this new beginning he warned that the weight of fame would soon break many artists. The risk, as he put it in starkly tragic terms, was that they would succumb to the logic of modern art and in effect feel that it was now up to them to "die" in order "to keep the myth intact."189 He criticized not this process as such but rather the fact that everyone preferred to turn a blind eye to it:
There is no overt pressure anywhere. The patrons of art are the nicest people in the world. They neither wish to corrupt nor actually do so. The whole situation is corrosive, for neither patrons nor artists comprehend their role.... Out of this hidden discomfort there comes a stillborn art, tight or merely repetitive at best and at worst, chic.... Strangely, no one seems to know this except, perhaps, the "unsuccessful" artists waiting for their day.... To us, who are already answering the increasing telephone calls from entrepreneurs, this is more than disturbing. We are, at this writing, still free to do what we wish, and are watching ourselves as we become caught up in an irreversible process. Our Happenings, like all the other art produced in the last decade and a half by those who, for a few brief moments, were also free, are in no small part the expression of this liberty. In our beginnings some of us, reading the signs all too clearly, are facing the end.190
Kaprow took the view that the current success of Happenings was directly linked to the flourishing American economy. They were part of a trend whereby only results counted, not the underlying purpose. As he put it:
Where else can we see the unbelievable but frequent phenomenon of successful radicals becoming "fast friends" with successful academicians, united only by a common success and deliberately insensitive to the fundamental issues their different values imply? I wonder where else but here can be found that shutting of the eyes to the question of purpose.191
For Kaprow, the driving force of artistic change was not the teleology of autonomous art pursuing its own stylistic development but rather the social reality of the times: "This everyday world affects the way art is created as much as it conditions its response-a response the critic articulates for the patron, who in turn acts upon it."192 With this analysis of Happenings as a function-and not a critique-of the boom economy in the United States, that is to say, as a means of satisfying the desire of the moneyed classes for a "befitting culture," Kaprow deconstructed the notions of art as an autonomous zone and as an instrument of political resistance.193
In fact there was a growing demand for performances of what Kaprow described as "melodrama."194 He could well have added the comment by Karl Marx that "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."195 Kaprow took the view that the enacting of melodramas had always been intrinsic to American culture, be it in the figure of the lone cowboy, Charlie Chaplin's Little Tramp, or "the organization man," in the spirit of William H. White, pursuing an unattainable goal and loving adventure for its own sake.196 In the 1940s and early 1950s the artists around Pollock had played their part in the historicist logic of Late Modernist painting-the "melodrama" that Kaprow described. But they had reached their goal too soon-which Kaprow felt was nothing short of tragic for Pollock and Rauschenberg.197 They had to die to keep the myth alive. And now the Happeners were continuing that tradition of melodrama: "Their activity embodies the myth of nonsuccess, for Happenings cannot be sold and taken home; they can only be supported."198
Well aware that his article would accelerate the demise of the Happening, Kaprow ended it with the hope that-precisely because of their foreseeable failure-Happenings would one day take on a utopian dimension, "like the sea monsters of the past or the flying saucers of yesterday." And this in turn would see the birth of a new myth: "I shouldn't really mind, for as the new myth grows on its own, without reference to anything in particular, the artist may achieve a beautiful privacy, famed for something purely imaginary while free to explore something nobody will notice."199 It is as though Kaprow was anticipating his career, which was to lead him away from the limelight of the art world in the 1970s until he reached his own form of privacy, where he no longer needed an audience. However, his article did not make him popular among the other Happeners. His use of the cliché of the artist destroyed by success and his complaint that some artists "are given their prizes very quickly instead of being left to their adventure"exposed him to the risk of his critique being read as sour grapes from an established artist who saw the success of his followers diminishing his own hard-won success.200 For most of the other Happeners, whose artistic lives were far from a bed of roses in the early 1960s, Kaprow's analysis could only appear blatantly cynical.
Claes Oldenburg versus Allan Kaprow
Kaprow's relationship to Claes Oldenburg exemplified his withdrawal from mainstream art production. Oldenburg, two years younger than Kaprow, arrived in New York in 1956 and was soon impressed by Kaprow's sculptures, Environments, lectures, and article on Pollock in particular.201 He cofounded, with Red Grooms and Jim Dine, the City Gallery, an offshoot of the Hansa Gallery. Together with Dine, Dick Tyler, and Phyllis Yampolsky he was part of the team at the Judson Gallery, connected to the Judson Memorial Church, where Robert Rauschenberg and Merce Cunningham realized a number of dance events.202 Oldenburg's first exhibition took place at the Judson Gallery in 1959. In late 1960 Kaprow served as acting director of the gallery for a short time and, like Oldenburg, kept a firm hand on its institutional reins.
Oldenburg was in the audience for 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, and he later claimed to have been disappointed by it because of "the boredom of repetition, which he attributed to the Zen influence of John Cage."203 Moreover, in retrospect he set himself apart from Kaprow, not without a tinge of condescension: "My position, you must understand, has always been on the outside. I didn't live in New Jersey, and I wasn't part of the New Jersey School, of which Kaprow was the leader. I didn't study with Cage."204 In fact, there was a time when he worked closely with Kaprow, and he even participated in Coca-Cola, Shirley Cannonball? in February 1960. It is clear from correspondence between the two men in the summer and autumn of 1960 that Oldenburg was respectful toward and on friendly terms with Kaprow, already an established artist. Like Roy Lichtenstein, he was keen to have Kaprow's approval. Initially he had been very much in favor of Kaprow's efforts to promote the cause of Happenings with his article in Art News and the planned monograph, modestly enquiring if Kaprow "would care to use any of the [Ray Gun] statements in your book, appendix, footnotes or the like."205
In 1960 both artists were invited to participate in the summer exhibition New Forms-New Media I at the prestigious Martha Jackson Gallery. Kaprow wrote a text for the catalogue, and Oldenburg designed the poster.206 In spring 1961 both artists received invitations to show their work at the follow-up exhibition Environment, Situations, Spaces.207 The fact that Kaprow and Oldenburg exhibited at one of the most influential galleries of Abstract Expressionism is symptomatic of the rapid changes taking place in the early 1960s. These exhibitions seemed to be a test of the public's acceptance of the new generation's art. Martha Jackson presented them in collaboration with her son's David Anderson Gallery and left their realization to a member of her staff. Although she extended the second exhibition after the summer break, she later made no bones about the fact that she did so only for the publicity it would bring the gallery.208
At Environment, Situations, Spaces, Oldenburg showed part of his Store, which he was working on at the time (see figure 14). Originally intended as a self-contained Environment, it consisted of a three-part wall painting in a stairwell and some plaster objects finished with enamel paints and mounted on the entrance wall.209 This served as a dry run for the Store that he later opened, in December 1961, in a vacant shop at 107 East Second Street, between Avenue A and First Avenue. In effect he simulated a commercial outlet connected to an artist's studio. It seemed that a workshop was directly supplying a multitude of colored reliefs and sculptures to be sold in The Store.
At the same exhibition Kaprow showed his Environment Yard, which-as one of his few photogenic pieces-was to become an icon. None of his other works of art has been illustrated and restaged as often as Yard. He realized new versions for the Pasadena exhibition in 1967, for Dortmund in 1986, for Milan in 1991, and for Los Angeles and Vienna (at the exhibition Out of Actions) in 1998. In autumn 2009, Yard was posthumously presented in a reinvention by William Pope.L at the same address where it had originally been shown, now home to the gallery Hauser Wirth New York.
Kaprow's chosen site was the small backyard of the Martha Jackson Gallery, which served as a sculpture garden. He covered the ground with multiple layers of car tires, then positioned empty oil barrels between them. He enclosed the sculptures in the yard in wooden constructions draped in black plastic sheeting, somewhat reminiscent of plants and sculptures encased in their winter protection in a landscaped garden but possibly also a deliberate allusion to Hans Hofmann's didactic practice of covering objects in sheeting in order to focus on their shapes and outlines. Looking down on the yard from the gallery windows, visitors found themselves gazing on a picture with mixed gray, black, and blue tones. If they wanted, they could also literally immerse themselves in the picture (as people had done with the earlier Environments), teetering on the rubber tires and repositioning them if they wished. In the muggy summer heat, some wallowed in the heady odor of rubber and oil, which repelled others.
The title of the piece and the perimeter wall of the backyard called to mind garden iconography in general, the small medieval paradise garden at the Cloisters in New York in particular, children's playgrounds, and the backyards that are the main arena for so many Americans' private domesticity. At the same time, the title and the materials alluded to more functional garden spaces, with the empty barrels and material products such as rubber and plastic implying a cycle of production based on crude oil. There was nothing natural about Yard. All the various elements had been fabricated by means of industrial processes. The countless gray tones may well also have called to mind the omnipresent auto junkyards and tire dumps that dominated the industrial landscape on the margins of Manhattan and marked the transition from town to country for commuters like Kaprow.210 Yard thus raised two of the main topics that particularly concerned the American people at the time-the problem of urban sprawl and the nature of an affluent society.
In allegorical terms, Yard can be read as a depot, an archive where "remains" are preserved and can be rearranged time after time. As they made physical contact with the rubber yielding and flexing beneath their feet, visitors could rearrange elements at will, endlessly changing the topography. From a distance they could view the structure as a whole but do nothing to it. From within it they could have an impact on it but never an overview. Even the author of this piece was not above his work. In the photographs that Kaprow published of Yard, we see him as an attendant-cum-commentator, a pipe in the corner of his mouth, sinking into a sea of tires.
It was typical of Kaprow's ambiguous attitude to art galleries and commerce that he chose the backyard for his Environment. While it is true that the rooms inside the gallery were not spacious enough for his needs and his work would have interfered with other exhibits, the spatial and symbolic distance to the "actual" gallery was in keeping with his interest in shifting contexts. With this choice of location, Yard was both in and outside the gallery.
Like Oldenburg's Store, Kaprow's Yard could in a sense be described as a fixed Happening. In both cases it was as though movement had solidified into sculpture. Both profited from the aura of the Happening as something unique. The Store stood out from its rather picturesque surroundings in the Lower East Side, and Yard contrasted equally strikingly with the nearby, elegant uptown galleries.211 Both artists placed themselves center stage as performers in the published photographs of their Environments. The antithetical roles they played reflect the different trajectories of their artistic careers. Kaprow's image as the guardian of his own story anticipated his later role as a key figure in university departments and among the ranks of those promoting American artists. Oldenburg's image as an entrepreneur, surrounded by consumer goods, was just the first sign of his later activity as his own manager.
The source of the rift between Kaprow and Oldenburg was Kaprow's article "Happenings in the New York Scene." In the late summer of 1961 the two artists had a long conversation, in all likelihood during the setup of the exhibition Environment, Situations, Spaces. Kaprow later recalled admiring Oldenburg's objects and considering buying some of them.212 In a subsequent letter Oldenburg wrote that he was glad to learn from Kaprow and referred to himself as being "in the part of the questioner." However, as he explained, he regarded the Art News article "not as an account of fact, but as a fiction." Moreover, "Perhaps this [method] does lead to an American art truer than any before. You are either a prophet or an unconscious ironist. You are probably a little mad (which is a good thing) and possibly a person of great importance."213 Two weeks later he wrote a reply to a letter from Kaprow that seems to have attempted to reconcile their differing positions; in his response Oldenburg resisted the idea that he had signed up to the same theories as Kaprow. He took Kaprow's reference to the corrupted hero as a blanket judgment. In Oldenburg's view, Kaprow had with this article "blown us all up." In addition, Oldenburg suggested that it was only through his practical input that Kaprow's purely conceptual project had been realized as art:
I see now quite clearly that one of my motives in doing what I did under the banner of "happenings" was, in my perverse and didactic way, to show that art could be made out of your highly unlikely approach. In doing this I think I must have done you a favor, but I don't think you got it.214
Oldenburg also said that Kaprow's purely intellectual ideas were in fact not on a par with the thinking behind other Happenings, such as Red Grooms's Burning Building.215 Moreover, he made it clear that he did not share Kaprow's view of the reality of American life, the belief-according to Oldenburg-that America was exactly the way it was portrayed. By contrast, Oldenburg felt that America was becoming ever more entangled in its fictions, which made Kaprow's "dreaming" untenable.216 For him, Kaprow's approach was both wayward and "bizarre."217 However, he did not regard their divergent views as a symptom of artistic rivalry:
In art there is no competition really, because there is no way to compare the complex cosmoses of individual artists. They simply realize themselves, and there exist.... I want people to see the world as I see it, that is to really see my work. ... You must have realized that all the remarks surrounding Ray Gun were hyperbolical, to emphasize the egotistical nature of creation. Creation as a kind of derangement in vision. But this was ironic. All my art rings variations on the relation of artistic reality to philosophical reality.218
Kaprow replied in late July and specifically criticized Oldenburg's mystification of the authority of the artistic persona, who created a world resembling reality: "Authorities usually try to avoid sounding like authorities. And not all your theories are as poetic as the one I singled out, by which guise they might have seemed less authoritative."219 The rub for Kaprow was the underlying rivalry between him and Oldenburg. In his analysis, rivalry between artists in the 1960s had replaced the distance that separated avant-garde artists and the public in the past. In 1964 he would write, "The artist can no longer succeed in failing. Deprived of his classic enemy, society, he cannot comfort himself in his lack of recognition.... For now his only opponent, if he has any, is the competition."220 In his July letter to Oldenburg he unmistakably staked his claim as the inventor of Happenings: "You came to something in which I had been involved for some time, and by your participation in its activities you indicated your willingness to share some (at least some) of its principles and values." He wondered how it could be that Oldenburg had coped with Kaprow's "highly unlikely approach" for two whole years.221
In late August Oldenburg responded with a pamphlet subdivided into twenty-three points, openly admitting that his intention had been to launch an attack on Kaprow: "Your irony bores me. You're talking to me, not a jury box.... You have discredited our motives by involving us in a theory of art which produces nothing but boredom." He refused to allow himself to be described, ironically, as a "trained aesthetician" and wondered if Kaprow was trying to act as his teacher by publishing "a bullshit article in Art News." He also contradicted Kaprow's suggestion that he had fitted in with the latter's methods: "I came to a vague notion of theater, chiefly suggested to me by Dick Tyler and Red [Grooms], of which yours constituted, to me, a negative example." And he swiftly dismissed Kaprow's differentiated reflection on the conditions of artistic production:
If an artist isn't sure what art is, he shouldn't be practicing it.... Your example did not seem to me to be art, but an "approach" (not a distinction). What I tried to do was to transform the approach into art, and thus into example.... I hope I have set up a superior artistic example.222
Yet again Oldenburg insisted that there was a difference between Kaprow's theory and his own, which he shared with Grooms, Dine, and Robert Whitman. Finally, he read Kaprow's reference to "melodrama" as a covert bid for leadership:
What you are doing (i.e. creating a fictional character out of yourself) does not refer to your art, but to your attempts or at least silent acquiescence in the claim to leadership, and to your attempts to justify happenings as the heroic "moral act" of the modern artist. Happenings are a fresh wind, for us, if not for you. Why can't you admit this? Why must you bury us, sing our requiem, and tie us back to the mythology of the 40's?223
In late December 1961, after Oldenburg's Store had opened and was clearly on the road to success, Kaprow received another letter from Oldenburg, in response to a dummy of the book he was preparing. Oldenburg criticized the layout, the choice of photographs, the large format, and-in view of the fact that Kaprow was the editor, as opposed to an independent critic-the level of self-congratulation. Oldenburg was adamant that he did not want to be associated with Kaprow in this book and asked him to exclude all references to Oldenburg: "I do not want this book to be a spokesman for anything I have done.... What you do is your business and you have no right to speak for me."224
Unlike Kaprow, Oldenburg cultivated the traditional notion of the artist as tragic outsider. In his view it was impossible for an artist to escape bourgeois values, but "the enemy is bourgeois culture nevertheless." He dreamed of a situation far away from "civilization built on human weakness": "I would like to find some way to take a totally outside position."225 By contrast, Kaprow talked of artists as being "in business" and hence integrated into society.226 His image of the artist fulfilling a variety of roles in a society where labor was divided among different players was entirely at odds with Oldenburg's notion of the artist as the heroic guarantor of social coherence: "He analyzes and breaks up only to rearrange and ultimately to resynthesize."227
Following his striking contextualization of the Modernist heritage in "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock" and of the Happening in "Happenings in the New York Scene," Kaprow's third article, "Should the Artist Become a Man of the World," dealt the next blow to the mystification of the artist as an outsider on the margins of society. By now he had gained a tenured position at the State University of New York, Stony Brook. In addition, he was involved in shaping a national education policy for the JohnF. Kennedy administration. In connection with his work for the Artists in Schools program, which aimed at educating schoolteachers in matters of art, he was fortunate enough to receive various grants and was constantly traveling around the country.228 This latest article thus reflected his professional work, which had shifted from production to organization, and is of interest today above all because it formulates a novel image of the artist that was increasingly to become the subject of artistic enquiry in the 1980s and 1990s.
Kaprow's premise was that "the art world, at least, has never been in better flower." And this flowering had to be met with a more professional approach and greater academic rigor, because now, "for the first time, blissful ignorance hasn't a chance."229 Success could come only with a new form of professionalism that would open up the possibility of both strategic planning and art as a "full-time career."230 In his view artists were firmly rooted in the middle classes, into which most were born and for which they produced their work: they could no longer adopt the guise of social outcasts. Situating artists well within the bourgeoisie was Kaprow's way of criticizing the residual yearnings of artists and their public for aristocracy: "Middle-class money, both public and private, should be spent on middle-class art, not on fantasies of good taste and noble sentiment."231 Seven years later Robert Smithson made a similar statement: "By making portable abstractions, the middle class artist plays right into the hand of the mercantilist."232
Because they were no longer up against bourgeois society, artists instead had to contend with other artists, their rivals and competitors. This was the thinking behind Kaprow's comment concerning the modern artist's preoccupation with internal artistic disputes and withdrawal from social conflict: "The modern artist is usually apolitical."233 But unlike many of his fellow artists, Kaprow felt that this was not the time to abstain from cultural politics: "Art politics is not only possible, but necessary. It is the new means of persuasion."234 Artists were no longer at one remove from society; on the contrary, they were involved in it: "Society nowadays-at least a rapidly growing part of it-pursues artists instead of exiling them." They could no longer rely on the idea that their time was yet to come, telling themselves that society will "discover me later."235 This particular sentiment was wholly at odds with Marcel Duchamp's notion that the artist must endure a period of nonrecognition: "He [the artist] will have to wait for the verdict of the spectator in order that his declarations take a social value and that, finally, posterity includes him in the primers of Art History."236
By taking this stance Kaprow was chipping away at the very foundations of the common assumption that the artist-taking advantage of the supposed autonomy of culture to step back from ordinary life-operated as a critical social corrective. Moreover, his notion of middle-class art undermined the idea, largely formed in the nineteenth century, of the artist as a tolerated outsider on the fringes of a static social order. The concept of art as an absolute was at the core of all art institutions, from the museum to the art journal. With this sideswipe Kaprow touched a raw nerve in the world of art institutions by implicitly criticizing their self-image as leaders in the field. In view of this, it is hardly surprising that in the editorial of the issue of Art News in which this article appeared, Thomas Hess made a point of distancing himself from Kaprow's opinions. Although he respected Kaprow's powerful language-"the baroque quality of his prose compels admiration, despite its content"-he nevertheless felt that there was a lag of twenty years between artistic activity and its acceptance by society at large. Even if an artist met the needs of his collectors, he was, in Hess's view, "part of and a rebel against his environment, simultaneously." Moreover, Hess saw the "professionalism" that Kaprow described as the "finest flower of modern society's corruption." Besides making the point that responsibility for one's own work could always be delegated elsewhere in a society defined by the division of labor, Hess specifically charged artists with the task of identifying the correlation between excess and poverty:
The Pro artist, when he opts to become a Man of the World, subscribes to worldly racism, he joins the religion of Holy Private Property, he sells out his rights as a man for the comfort of tenure in a university, membership in a country club, cocktails with the boss. The artist as a company-man is reduced to an entertainer. Fortunately, Kaprow speaks almost only for himself.237
Kaprow's concept of the artist as a man of the world became common currency in the 1980s. For the wider public in the 1960s, however, his vision was unsettling, despite the fact that in some senses it drew on David Riesman's book The Lonely Crowd, notably his exposition of rivalry within peer groups.238 Kaprow himself notably played out a range of roles in different contexts. In the art world he was the "other-directed" artist; in the company of academics, museum professionals, and jury or committee members he played the "inner-directed" artist; at exhibition openings he became the "bearded professor," and so on. Oldenburg, by contrast, preferred the inner-direction of what Riesman described as the "old" middle class, for instance the "tradesman, the small entrepreneur," and maintained certain prewar traditions that he felt Kaprow was betraying.
Oldenburg also took issue with the fact that, as he saw it, Kaprow was endangering the cohesion of their peer group by tacitly ignoring their agreed pricing structures. Although Oldenburg liked to create the impression that he was inner-directed, his actions were certainly other-directed. His Store was an expression-not a critique-of art playing a part in a modern consumer society. Like Warhol's Factory later on, Oldenburg's Store owed some of its considerable success to the fact that it perpetuated a nostalgic picture of straightforward production processes. Conception, production, and distribution all took place under the same roof. The fact that this idyll was only sustained thanks to support from an internationally active gallery was quietly swept under the carpet. By contrast, Kaprow structured his Happenings along the lines of a modern service industry. He produced them to order-which naturally affected their finish, depending on how much time and money were available.
The prices charged for Oldenburg's art were in keeping with the gallerists' confidential agreements, with sums between forty and five hundred dollars accurately reflecting the market value, around 1960, of works by an up-and-coming thirty-year-old. By deciding not to sell anything, Kaprow not only undercut other people's prices in the most extreme manner possible but also shone a bright light on sales structures. And by installing Yard behind the Martha Jackson Gallery, he drew attention to the difference between a showroom and a place where sculptures are stored. His contextualization of the gallery space (unlike Oldenburg's colonization of the Lower East Side by setting up a public sales outlet) did not subject the setting to his strategy but rather adjusted his strategy to the setting.
Naturalism and Modernism
Differences between artists are of course nothing unusual in the art world. However, there is a reason to pay attention to the clash between Kaprow and Oldenburg: their respective positions reflect an art-historical watershed. Bearing in mind Oldenburg's artistic success from the 1960s onward, there is little point in comparing the reception histories of his and Kaprow's work. While Oldenburg's sculptures are found in numerous cities in Europe and North America, Kaprow's work is mainly known to art specialists. Yet from a present-day perspective, Kaprow's theories-his view of the role of the artist, his analysis of the context of art, and his critique of Modernism-are much more stimulating than Oldenburg's stance, which was founded on the notion of individual creative power, the autonomous work of art, and the mystery of art. Kaprow regarded Oldenburg's thinking (not his art) as regressive and criticized it accordingly; Oldenburg, for his part, described Kaprow's position as cynical.
Of course it is not my intention here to try to turn back the wheel of art history or speculate on what might have been if, for instance, Giuseppe Panza di Biumo had not bought Oldenburg's sculptures but had instead invited him-and Kaprow-to Europe to realize a few dozen Happenings. Nor-lest there be any misunderstanding-am I trying to suggest that Kaprow was somehow marginalized. That simply would not tally with his successful teaching career in higher education and his ongoing presence in the art-critical debate, and it would only lead down the avenue of hagiographic regret for another "neglected artistic genius." But the case of Kaprow versus Oldenburg does exemplify a complexity in the art history of the 1960s that has been largely forgotten today.
To reopen that case, we must return once again to "Happenings in the New York Scene." In this essay Kaprow ironically exaggerated the workings of Modernist art production, which openly celebrated the making of art and its instantaneous consumption. In so doing he partially drew on John Kenneth Galbraith's demystification of production in The Affluent Society (1958). However, in terms of economics, the art debate was lagging behind the sociological debate. Kaprow's view on the speed of reception was a provocation to most of his peers; for economists, however, it would have simply confirmed what they took for granted. For the artist, the impermanence of Happenings made them different from other art forms: "A Happening is thus fresh, while it lasts, for better or worse." And Kaprow had an explanation for this impermanence:
This is, in essence, a continuation of the tradition of Realism. The significance of the Happening is not to be found simply in the fresh creative wind now blowing. Happenings are not just another new style. Instead, like American art of the late 1940s, they are a moral act, a human stand of great urgency, whose professional status as art is less a criterion than their certainty as an ultimate existential commitment.239
Kaprow did not pursue this line of argument any further. No doubt he was keen to associate Happenings with Realism in order to set them apart from the Nouveaux Réalistes in Europe, whom WilliamC. Seitz had fêted in The Art of Assemblage (1961). No doubt he wanted to declare his interest in the American art scene of the 1930s and 1940s, which had, after all, produced the painter Jackson Pollock. However, his reference to a philosophy of Realism, of whatever kind, does raise certain questions. The fact is, his suggestion that Happenings-that "concrete art," as he called it-were rooted in Realism in effect undermined his earlier analysis, which presented them as the progeny of the spirit of painting.240 Was it his intention to imply that the Nouveaux Réalistes were not the rightful heirs to Realism? Was there another tradition, not connected to the logic of Modernism, an alternative to "the triumph of American painting" (per Irving Sandler's 1970 book title), that had in fact led to the Happenings? Kaprow did not provide any answers to these questions. His assertion that Happenings were "a moral act" was distinctly pathos laden. Yet it is worth tracing his footsteps to gain a better understanding of the scope of his critique of Modernist values.
Our starting point is the essay "The Gold Standard and the Logic of Naturalism" (1987), by the cultural historian Walter Benn Michaels.241 Michaels explores the connection between American trompe l'oeil painting in the 1880s and 1890s and Late Modernist art from the 1940s to the 1960s, by which he means Abstract Expressionism and Minimal Art. In his view both trompe l'oeil painting and Modernism are beholden to what he calls "the logic of naturalism." This logic, as he explains it, goes back to the attitudes of the devotees of the gold standard, the so-called goldbugs, during the late-nineteenth-century controversy over the continuation of gold backing. The goldbugs supported the view that only as much abstract money should be in circulation as there was natural gold to back it. Unlike the monetarists, who won the day, allowing the federal government to regulate the amount of money in circulation, the goldbugs regarded money as a finite raw material.
The goldbugs on Wall Street, in whose interests it was to control the limited gold resources, liked to collect paintings-by artists such as John Haberle-of deceptively real-looking paper currency, stamps, photographs, shares certificates, and the like. One of the most famous paintings of this genre is Haberle's Imitation (1887), with its depiction of two much-used banknotes, a few tattered stamps, and a yellowed photograph. Even the frame is painted, with evidence of wear and tear, and the artist's signature on the frame is part of a trompe l'oeil. The theme of the painting is the transience of any kind of representation. The wealthy New York art dealer and leading art collector Thomas B. Clarke purchased it directly from the exhibition when it first went on show in 1887.242 According to Michaels, the aim of painting such bafflingly real-looking motifs was to reinforce the beholder's valuation of the real thing as opposed to a copy or a fake.243 By tapping into Clement Greenberg's concept of "flatness" (and his "blank canvas"),244 Michaels makes the connection with Modernist art:
Flatness, not money, carries the weight of trompe l'oeil's economic commitments. And nowhere is this more evident, even if somewhat paradoxically so, than in the hostility to trompe l'oeil and to illusion in general that would become (was indeed already becoming) a central preoccupation of modernist painting.... Greenberg's blank canvas, despite (or, rather, because of) its repudiation of all illusion, participates directly in the trompe l'oeil production of three-dimensionality.... Replacing the illusion of three-dimensionality with the physical fact of three-dimensionality, the blank canvas identifies value with material, picture with support. The painting that can represent nothing and still remain a painting is "money itself," and the modernist (or, perhaps, literalist) aesthetic of freedom from representation is a goldbug aesthetic.245
Although Fredric Jameson refers in detail to Michaels's essay in his book Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism (1991), art historians have paid scant attention to Michaels. Yet his writing provides a welcome and unexpected tool for those keen to challenge the idea of a radical break between Modernism and Postmodernism. His premise (which he came to earlier than his colleagues in art history) is that there is a continuous, unbroken line connecting Abstract Expressionism and Minimal Art. Furthermore, he situates the ideology of Modernism-concepts such as self-referentiality, essence, quality, originality, and the ban on images-firmly in the context of economic history. In his exposition of a "goldbug aesthetic," Michaels identifies a particular embodiment of the goldbug in the figure of the "miser," who, as he puts it, has a fetish for money and such a passion for gold that he withdraws his own gold from circulation, which is always threatening and promising to naturalize it again. Michaels locates the figure of the miser in literature from the turn of the century, characters such as the junk dealer Zerkow in the novel McTeague by Frank Norris. However, Zerkow hoards junk, as opposed to dealing in it. His passion for it is the same that anyone else might have for gold, a passion for something that has been withdrawn from circulation. The behavior of the junk dealer highlights the paradox of "natural" gold, which functions as money only when it has an exchange value and undermines its very existence when it seeks to escape this role:
If gold, to be money itself, need never be money at all and so, as I have argued, can never be money at all, then what Zerkow likes is a way of seeing gold that, identifying it as junk instead of money, allows it for the first time actually to become money. Here the figure of the miser is turned inside out; instead of marking the continuity between nature and the economy, between a natural money and no money, he marks the sudden emergence both of money out of junk and of a puzzling question: If there is no value in nature, how can there be value at all? It is just this question that the commitment to precious metals is designated to answer or, better, to forestall-forestall it by insisting that there is value in nature and answer it by suggesting that should the value in nature run out, then there would indeed be no value left anywhere.246
There are of course self-evident parallels between the figure of Zerkow and the "junk dealers" in the postwar art world, such as the Nouveaux Réalistes or Robert Rauschenberg, represented in the 1961 exhibition The Art of Assemblage. As if to underline this, an illustration of Haberle's trompe l'oeil painting The Changes of Time (1888) occupies a prominent position in the introduction to The Art of Assemblage's catalogue.247 The fact that the New York Museum of Modern Art-that citadel of abstract modern art-opened its doors to the "junk dealers" and allowed Jean Tinguely to present his Homage to New York: A Self-Constructing and Self-Destroying Work of Art makes perfect sense if we accept that these were, in effect, two sides of the same Modernist coin. The title of Tinguely's work already points unmistakably to the notion of the autonomous work of art, which refers only to itself and its own operations. This in turn explains why the program of the Museum of Modern Art could accommodate a piece by Tinguely-and not Kaprow. At the same time, we have to ask why Pop Art so soon ousted the Nouveaux Réalistes-who, if we take Kaprow's logic to the next stage, ought in fact to be known as Nouveaux Naturalistes. Why should it be that, despite Tinguely's undisputed status, Oldenburg so soon overtook and vastly outdid him?
Oldenburg, like Kaprow, was not represented in The Art of Assemblage. In 1960 and early 1961 he had still not reconciled his involvement in Happenings with his work as a painter. It was only in mid-1961 that he managed to synthesize these two sides of his activities. Almost immediately his art became an important component in numerous international exhibitions. Moreover, during the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s he successfully monumentalized and popularized this synthesis in his sculptures-with the declared aim of reaching "as many people as possible."248 Regularly working from 1976 onward with his wife Coosje von Bruggen, Oldenburg produced sculptures, in the trompe l'oeil tradition, in the form of gigantic enlargements of everyday objects. The pleasure derived from their contemplation is partly due to the reassurance that, in surroundings that seem increasingly abstract, ordinary things stay as they are. And at least in the early days of his artistic career, Oldenburg could well have been compared to Michaels's notion of a miser, since his breakthrough came not from his involvement in Happenings but rather when he created the typical environment of a junk dealer-his Store. Although the objects on display did not represent junk, they recalled a secondhand shop. They consisted of a great variety of goods that looked randomly brought together, such as clothing, food, and other consumer objects. This was much more like a general store from the good old days-looking back (if Kaprow was right to identify an element of nostalgia in Pop Art) to Oldenburg's childhood-full of all kinds of individual, unpackaged goods. These examples of "junk culture" were now ennobled to such an extent that they became the three-dimensional heirs to the mantle of the New York School. The haptic surface of peinture was rendered as enamel paint on a rough plaster ground.
Oldenburg compared his Store to a museum: "Museum in b[ourgeois] concept equals store in mine."249 He expressly identified with what he had created: "The store means for me: my consciousness."250 And in a letter to Kaprow, he wrote, "The store ... it's personal."251 Oldenburg symbolically withdrew consumer goods from circulation by accumulating them. Having talked in the 1960s of his desire to turn art into life, he now aimed at making life into art.252 There is a close analogy here to Zerkow, who wanted to make gold from junk. At the same time, Oldenburg admitted that his interest in painting was olfactory and obsessive: "I am turned on by the thick plaster and green paint of a kitchen in my neighborhood. The accumulation and mystery. The heaped up table."253 The accumulation of plaster and paint also had an irresistible appeal for the visitors who came to The Store. (And it was not long before Oldenburg's Soft Sculptures literally bowed to the covetous gaze of the public.) But unlike in Happenings, where it was not unknown for viscous paint to pour from buckets, in The Store products from Happenings were on sale.
Panza di Biumo, who from 1953 onward regularly made the journey to New York from Milan or Varese, where he lived, later looked back at visiting The Store:
To reach the Store, we had to go through the Jewish section in downtown New York, which was full of shops selling used dresses.... And the Oldenburg Store was in a small street, after the Jewish section. It was completely different because it was glowing [with] beautiful colors. The poor objects ... [were] changed into something brilliant, because of the strong, pure, beautiful colors used by Oldenburg.254
Oldenburg's objects so fascinated Panza, another true "miser," that, having pondered for a whole year, he came forward with an offer for the entire contents of The Store-so that he, for his part, could withdraw all these items from circulation on the art market.255 However, Richard Bellamy, who was representing Oldenburg and wanted to see the work disseminated as widely as possible, thwarted Panza's desire to own every last item on sale there.256 Bellamy, who had a financial interest in The Store through his Green Gallery, was in a position to turn down "goldbug" Panza only because he had the backing of a much mightier goldbug, the collector Robert Scull.257
By 1963, however, Oldenburg had grown so uneasy at having a dealer representing his work that he decided to become an entrepreneur and do without the services of a gallery.258 He reactivated in real life a game he had invented in 1960, when he created a dedicated currency for his Ray Gun Show that the audience could use to purchase objects.259 During an interval in the show he set up a mock barter event, as he recounted in his notes: "The audience gathered in the gymnasium [of the church,] where girls wheeled around carts of junk objects for purchase with Ray Gun money given to them on their arrival."260
It is not surprising that Oldenburg made full use of anything produced during his Happenings: "Residual objects are created in the course of making the performance and during the repeated performances.... To pick up after a performance, to be very careful about what is to be discarded and what still survives by itself. Show study respect for small things."261 His obsession with preserving things is reflected in statements such as "I am for an art covered with bandages."262 In his book Store Days he published minutely detailed business accounts covering everything from heating costs to the sale of each item.263 Andy Warhol was another artist who never threw anything away. Unlike Oldenburg, however, he had an ironic awareness of his obsession, which he voiced in his "philosophy of using leftovers," a parody of the skinflint that is less about being mean than supposedly being lazy: "I always thought there was a lot of humor in leftovers."264
This relatively lengthy account serves above all to show that the differences between Kaprow and Oldenburg amounted to a fundamental disparity that could be described as the difference between naturalism and realism. I am deliberately avoiding the adjective Postmodernist here, since it would call to mind their common ground. Both consciously moved away from Modernism and can thus be classed as Postmodernist. However, little is to be gained from that, for there was a distinct divergence in the nature of their historicity. Let us return once more to Michaels. He suggests that a feature of the logic of naturalism (not to be confused with the art style known as Naturalism) is the notion that money is a natural resource-"like coal or cows."265 Oldenburg frequently reiterated the importance he attached to working with organic materials.266 He dreamed of a "square which becomes blobby," recalled that "the insides looked as interesting as the outsides and I hated to seal them up," and commented that "the bone of a thing, its essentialness is what matters to me the most."267 His deep-rooted leaning toward naturalism is reflected in his desire "to be for a moment nature itself" and in a statement in a letter to Kaprow: "The creation of art is ... a natural act.... An art of non-artistic reality or philosophical reality is impossible to flirt with. It is an irrelevance.... Art is as truly organic and mysterious as the self."268
By contrast, Kaprow insisted that only difference and exchange were real. He demonstrated his skepticism of the Modernist logic of hoarding to spectacular effect in Bon Marché, even if it elicited no response from the critics or the participants. This Happening took place in 1963 in the Parisian department store of that name-that is to say, an institution which must be abhorrent to any goldbug for its celebration of the most frivolous love of extravagance. Kaprow was immediately taken with the shop's ambience:
Its [the Happening's] theme was suggested both by the daytime activities of the store and by the morgue-like, shrouded appearance it took on after closing hour. I sensed in the ritual exchange of packages for money, and in the night-time aisles of cloth-covered merchandise and mannequins, an inevitable circularity of imagery.269
Each visitor received a small package at the beginning of the Happening and was then drawn into diverse activities, all of which centered on the processes of exchange and consumption and ranged from pushing a shopping trolley to watching television and eating. The Happening came to a close with participants being directed, via the public address system, to open up their packages-only to find that they were filled with stones, which the participants were to deposit in a basin of water before making their way home (see figure 15).
As the evening progressed, with its game of exchange, consumption, and dissipation, participants in Bon Marché may well have harbored the (Modernist) wish that the weight in their hand would turn out to be of some value, maybe even a lump of gold. The disappointment that awaited them at the end of the evening was of the same order as the shock that could befall a goldbug were he to discover that, as Michaels puts it, "money doesn't exist at all."270 The "inevitable circularity of imagery" was real and, in Kaprow's terminology, "life." Consequently a temporarily nonfunctioning commercial premises-the department store after closing time-was a nightmare in his view. For the Modernist this nightmare became a glorious dream of everything turning into gold. Kaprow let his participants live the dream for a short time, until he woke them up with the bitter truth about the contents of their packages. The participants were left holding on to nothing more than maybe a sense of disappointment. In much the same way that Oldenburg described his Store as his "consciousness," Kaprow identified with the department store, at least when he referred to himself having a "supermarket-mind."271
Another particularly striking response to the theme of commercial exchange is Rauschenberg's Combine Black Market (1961). This piece, created for the exhibition Bewogen-Beweging at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, invited visitors to exchange any one of four objects in a suitcase for an object of their own and to register this exchange by stamping Rauschenberg's name on the new object and tracing or drawing the object into a booklet, accompanied by their own name. Even if Rauschenberg's approach was much more ironic than Oldenburg's, there was still something of the junk dealer mentality in his hope that visitors would leave an item "that had some personal value for them" and that he would make a minimal profit from each transaction, in the form of a "receipt." The idea was that visitors would be "torn between the object and the art work," in other words, between losing an object that had value for them and gaining an object that was a work of art by Rauschenberg.272 In that respect, if not the idea then at least the act of representation (using a stamp, for instance) could be a pleasure to the miser. This may provide an answer to the question of why Oldenburg represented objects in the first place. In 1961 he wrote, "Why do I not just present the real thing instead of imitating it? Because my desire to imitate extends to the event or activity of making the thing I imitate."273 The pleasure he gained from satisfying his mimetic urge was the same that he experienced as an artist in the guise of a sign painter or a pastry cook. The image of an artist that he created became a trompe l'oeil that may have deceived his neighbor but would not fool the connoisseur.274 Thus he underpinned the authenticity of the creative artist as "an indomitable hero who exists on a plane above any living context," as Kaprow put it.275
"Why does the miser save?" Michaels asks, and comes to the conclusion that "he saves to escape the money economy; he saves to reenact for himself the origin of economy."276 The paranoia of the miser is founded in his paradoxical fear and hope that money might cease to exist:
The love of precious metal is just the fear that men will regress into beasts, which is, in turn, the fear that money will disappear, which, transposed and inverted, is the love of trompe l'oeil painting. It would be possible, in my view, to extend these transformations-in the case of painting ... forward into minimalism.277
This might be extrapolated to include the Modernists in art-be they artists, collectors, or historians. Gripped by the same inextricably intertwined fear and hope that art may cease to be, they seek to re-create the beginnings of art. This then informs both the Modernist notion of originality and the Modernist's fixation on the definition of art. Thus the rekindled debate in the 1960s regarding the nature of art and the previously mentioned revival of the classical avant-garde can be read as the art world's reenactment of the origin of art. What Theodor Adorno described as a widespread critique of isms-namely, opponents ridiculing new movements in art, such as Expressionism and Surrealism, as momentary and short-lived-was rooted in the Modernist fear of Modernism per se, the anxiety over Modernism developing schools and a tradition in its own right.278
This issue, which played such an important part in the art discourse of the 1950s and 1960s (by the 1970s scarcely anyone was asking "What is art?"), filled Oldenburg with a sense of agonizing uncertainty that led to his uneasy love-hate relationship with art. Sometimes he actively sought to distance himself from it: "[Art] is the notion I've got to get rid of." Or: "Assuming that I want to create some thing, what would that thing be? Just a thing, an object. Art would not enter into it."279 The idea that the significance of art resides in the self-referentiality of its media, that is to say, in the demystification of the fact that it is made from wholly tangible paint and picture ground or that it is the outcome of particular conditions of production, is ultimately wholly in keeping with the rationale of naturalism. As it turned out, this idea survived beyond the 1960s and continued to fuel the debate until well into the 1980s. Witness Benjamin Buchloh's appreciation of Michael Asher, whose art is evaluated mainly in terms of its revealing of the (presumably) hidden conditions of art:
Asher's work committed itself to the development of a practice of situational aesthetics that insisted on a critical refusal to provide an existing apparatus with legitimizing aesthetic information, while at the same time revealing, if not changing, the existing conditions of the apparatus. More than any other artist of his generation that I am aware of did he maintain that stance once it had been defined after the shortcomings and compromises of Minimal art had become apparent in the late Sixties and Conceptual art had revealed its idealist fallacies.280
The viewer's enjoyment arises from the artist's-infinitely repeatable-unmasking of a deception. The gain that is to be had from this lies in the confirmation of a hidden truth that viewers feel they already know. Kaprow regarded this predetermined sequence of concealing and revealing an a priori truth as "tragic"; Smithson later described this attitude as "mechanistic."281 I therefore suggest that the pleasure commentators felt in the 1980s and 1990s when they studied the desublimation strategies of artists such as Asher, Daniel Buren, and Hans Haacke may be compared with the pleasure Greenberg experienced as he surveyed the "flatness" of Kenneth Noland's paintings and by the goldbugs when they saw through the sleight of hand of Haberle's trompe l'oeil paintings. Against this backdrop, Panza's activities as a collector make perfect sense. Having started with just a few examples of Abstract Expressionism, during the 1960s and 1970s he built up the most important private collection worldwide of Pop Art, Minimal Art, and Conceptual Art. In the mid-1970s he expressed an interest in Asher's "lounge area," created for the exhibition Ambiente/Arte curated by Germano Celant in the Padiglione Centrale at the 1976 Venice Biennale.282 Panza was invited to purchase this work, an ensemble of furnished relaxation zones that highlighted both the interconnection of sculpture and furniture and the exhaustion that visitors to the Biennale experienced.283 He had already been interested in Asher's work and, had he acquired this piece, would have been one of the few collectors with an Asher to his name, bought before Asher began making unsalable art. Panza finally declined the offer, after lengthy hesitation, citing a lack of funds.284
Michaels proposes writing as an alternative to the logic of naturalism: "The attraction of writing is that it escapes this logic. Neither a formal entity in itself nor an illusionistic image of something else, it marks the potential discrepancy between material and identity."285 This discrepancy makes representation possible in the first place. However, in Michaels's view the idea of writing is unbearable to goldbugs and Modernists, for it also always contains the possibility that one's persona might disappear. Indeed, as a means to endless fiction, writing is one of the potential enemies of Modernist logic, as are photography, as a means to endless repetition, and even, to a certain extent, three-dimensional objects that, insofar as they are not made from pure gold, distract attention from the self-referentiality of the ur-material and, by dint of other qualities, vastly exaggerate their given value. Writing, which can set up new value systems at will, stands in opposition to the symbol that relies on the convergence of reality and an artist's mark.
There is a considerable difference in Kaprow's and Oldenburg's use of writing. For instance, in Kaprow's Environment Words, visitors could add new words and messages to those already written on the canvases and thus undermine the supposed transparency of the medium in signifying a content. By contrast, the messages in Oldenburg's texts are always easily decipherable, be it in the design for Police Station, an image of a police station made from the individual letters of the word police, or be it that, in a polemical move, he lines up the letters of Kaprow's name into a kind of concrete poem that can be read as letters but also seen as parts of a mountain chain. Although these pieces arrest the epic flow of language and cause the reader's eye to stumble over individual letters, starting involuntarily to play with their order and to mentally rearrange them like building blocks, their meaning remains perfectly clear. In just the same way that he pushed letters within words into one another, so too did Oldenburg stack up torn cardboard props in early Environments, such as The Street. He reaffirmed the self-contained cycle of consumption by creating temporary blockages in the flow of goods in his Store: gleaming, thick enamel paint covers objects (made of plaster over a wire armature) with a viscous surface that is both beguiling and repellent, that promises freshness yet represents stagnation. Thus he created an ambiguity that, as he insisted, was far from easy to achieve: "I want these pieces to have an unbridled intense satanic vulgarity that is unsurpassable, and yet be art. To work in total art is hard as hell."286 Ultimately he was creating reversible transgressions of a particular framework (the notion of communication, the genre of painting, the cycles of consumption) that by definition affirmed that same framework. All of this had nothing to do with Kaprow's skepticism regarding the neutral transmission of messages-which he formulated in, for instance, his essay "Impurity."287
Oldenburg shows his deep-seated, naturalist mistrust of representation in the first scene of his film Snapshots from the City (1960), when the business pages of a newspaper go up in flames.288 In his Happening Fotodeath (1961), he embodied his hatred for the supposedly falsifying nature of photography in the sleazy photographer, Carl, who tried to take a photograph of a family of three against a landscape backdrop only to find them apparently dropping dead every time he attempted the shot.289 Photography is portrayed as a deadly intrusion, whose subject is brutally wrenched from a natural continuum of space and time. However, as soon as the possibility arose of documenting his art to make it more widely known, Oldenburg-unlike Kaprow-engaged a professional photographer to record his Happenings, usually in color, and even re-created some so that they could be filmed. Kaprow later alluded to the fact that Oldenburg felt it was important that his works be documented when he commented, "He had a Minox."290 However, Oldenburg never described these photographs as art. By contrast, Kaprow seems almost systematically to have ensured that any images of his Environments and Happenings had a specific iconic quality.
Kaprow embodied everything that would completely infuriate the goldbug, alias naturalist, alias Modernist. His Happenings were there to be consumed, nothing more, nothing less; they could never be placed in an art repository, but they had no connection with the natural world. They could be described as pure extravagance, the ultimate frustration for collectors and museum directors, for whose fixation on art Kaprow had nothing but scorn: "The real weakness of much vanguard art since 1951 is its complacent assumption that art exists and can be recognized and practiced."291 He was never preoccupied by questions of art, nonart, or the nature of art; his interest was always in art's locus. This inevitably brought him into contact with the realms of architecture.
The first great consideration is that life goes on in an environment; not merely in it but because of it, through interaction with it. No creature lives merely under its skin.
-John Dewey, Art as Experience
Happenings, in Allan Kaprow's opinion, initiated the destabilization of the traditional exhibition situation. The context, the atmosphere, and the habitat of Happenings-in disused industrial premises, in basements, in empty shops and warehouses, or out in the street-put an end to the traditional limitation of art by means of "white walls, tasteful aluminum frames, lovely lighting, fawn gray rugs, cocktails, polite conversation." Happenings melded together the "surroundings, the artist, the work, and everyone who comes to it into an elusive, changeable configuration."292 Kaprow's Environments and stage sets also had nothing to do with the gallery spaces of the 1940s, which, with their colored fabric finishes and carpets, were in the Parisian mode. But neither did his work subscribe to the loft aesthetic that followed the European-style gallery.
Calvin Tomkins identified the opening of the Betty Parsons Gallery in autumn 1946 as the beginning of a new era:
Most of the New York galleries then copied the European look, with dark, fabric-covered walls, thick carpets, and small paintings in elaborate frames-art presented as expensive decoration. Betty Parsons was the first to look like an artist's loft studio: white walls, bare wood floors, no decoration-emphatically not a middle-class interior.293
Parsons's innovative presentation of paintings in the same context in which they had been made, as though in a tidied-up studio, reflected a different attitude in the recipients-that is to say, a specific interest in the very latest work. At the time numerous artists had been able to set up their studios in low-rent commercial premises when light industry and clothing manufacturing were squeezed out of Lower Manhattan after the Second World War.294 These studios still bore traces of their industrial past, which American artists welcomed as proof of the difference between themselves and their European counterparts and as a useful backdrop for the image of the working-class hero that they were keen to cultivate. In 1949 Art News started to publish a new column of artists' portraits, each of which included a series of photographs documenting the making of a painting in the artist's studio.295
After Betty Parsons, Leo Castelli was the next to exploit the ambience of an industrial premises in an art presentation.296 Even before he opened his gallery, he caused a considerable stir with an Abstract Expressionist group exhibition in an abandoned factory that was due for demolition. His Ninth Street Show in spring 1951 was to become the stuff of legend.297 The backdrop of the converted factory space was very much in keeping with the production aesthetics of the Abstract Expressionists. In the late 1960s, when he opened his Castelli Warehouse as an offshoot of his gallery, Castelli introduced another new element into the typology of exhibition architecture. The conversion of disused industrial premises and repositories into exhibition spaces proved to be a viable option and established itself as a new paradigm by the late 1970s. Minimal Art in particular-as a manifestation of postindustrial art-could be presented to good effect in deserted factory buildings with naked brick walls, riveted steel beams, and shed roofs, spaces that machinery and workers had once filled.298
These nineteenth-century industrial settings appeared more authentic and American to the art-viewing public than did presentation styles imported from Europe. The democratic traditions of American labor and manufacturing now countered European precedents, with their aristocratic connotations-known to many from the night shots of the sculpture exhibition against the backdrop of the burned-out orangerie of Kassel Castle at documenta 1 in Kassel in 1955 and photos of the Picasso exhibition at the ruined Castello Sforzesco in Milan in 1953. Broadly speaking, art seems to benefit from being set off against the ruined remains of an earlier epoch that has given way to and is now commemorated by that same art-one need only call to mind the nineteenth-century museums built as imitation castles or churches.
By the late 1950s the ambience of the "'loft generation' of the '40s and '50s," as Kaprow ironically called it, had become so ubiquitous in New York that Kaprow distanced himself from it and provocatively defied the supposed authenticity of the artist's studio with the artificiality of a stage set.299 The loft was now a stage: studio and exhibition space had become one, and the separation of production and reception was a thing of the past.
More than painters and sculptors, the Happeners could profit from an institutional change that occurred around 1960. As well as benefiting from support from the Judson Gallery, the Reuben Gallery, and other smaller galleries such as the Smolin Gallery and the Green Gallery, they now found their work championed in university and college art departments, some very new. Happenings fitted well into the interdisciplinary programs of the art, poetry, and theater festivals that greatly enlivened campus life at colleges and universities. The student audience was young and interested in art. At these events, which generally took place outdoors when the weather was warm and were often attended by whole families, the dividing lines between art, play, and festival were naturally fluid.
At times the Happeners would form an advance party, like film crews searching for locations, to find the most suitable sites and to work out themes. Four years before Robert Smithson coined the term site selection and long before the concept of site specificity had become common currency, Oldenburg and Kaprow were surveying possible venues with an eye to their spatial, atmospheric, social, economic, and historical characteristics. Oldenburg even commented that after a while it became difficult to find new venues: "It becomes harder and harder to do a happening. You use up everything that you have. That's why you have to find new places. One reason that I have done fewer things in New York recently is that I used up New York, particularly the Lower East Side."300 Kaprow once recalled that they generally came up with themes and a title after their first visit to a proposed location. As a rule, they relied on local curators to see to the necessary preparations, including organizing materials, fees, safety procedures, permissions, insurance, and rehearsals. The extent and length of a Happening depended on the funding, some of which would be reserved as remuneration for the Happeners. The scores of most Happenings were so straightforward that they could be explained in a few minutes and could sometimes be performed without rehearsal.301 In the mid-1960s Kaprow started to publicize his Happenings on posters that served as announcement, score, and documentation in one.
The new situation, with Happenings commissioned for particular events, brought fundamental changes. The context of a university campus or an ephemeral, open-air festival was very different from the fixed, urban spaces of the New York galleries. Importance now attached to Happenings' duration, audience, and costs. While American universities had an increasing appetite for Happenings in the early 1960s, commercial galleries had no use for these unsalable events, and art museums had no desire to integrate them into exhibitions or collections. Thus the relocation of Happenings to places that were not on the usual exhibition circuit should not automatically be read as "a protest against the museum conception of art" (per Susan Sontag)302-although Kaprow himself cultivated this cliché303-but as a logical adaptation to changed circumstances.
Kaprow's first Happening commissioned by a university was The Night. It was presented as part of Open House 61, a festival held in May 1961 at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Kaprow made all the necessary arrangements by post. Students built the required set and rehearsed the performance. Kaprow flew in from New York shortly before the opening.304 This Happening was an extended version of A Spring Happening. It took place at night in an old aircraft hangar, on whose walls lengths of fabric and paper were hung. Around a hundred spectators were ushered in. A single naked bulb cast a dim light over the scene. Large cardboard boxes, lit from inside by actors with flashlights, moved among the visitors like wandering lanterns. Then other actors started to create collisions among items hanging by ropes from the ceiling-car tires, empty oil drums, garbage. Next the actors in the cardboard boxes stepped out of their containers, naked and painted from head to toe. As in A Spring Happening, a shadow play projected on the fabric-covered walls took the spectators by surprise, and the sound of a hidden power saw suddenly shocked them. Lengths of transparent plastic sheeting descended from the roof and came to rest on the spectators, covering them. The actors then spattered paint and white foam over the plastic-covered spectators. After a storm of flashlights, an actor on a rope swung through the air like Tarzan, crying out at the top of his voice, "The night!" Finally, a wall of ornamental shrubs started to move toward the visitors, crowding them together.
The spectacular settings of Happenings such as The Night, whose setting recalled the set of a movie or a play, were characteristic of the fact that the atmospheric context of the events, the site where each took place, was gaining wider attention. The Happeners turned the galleries' lack of interest to their advantage and profited from the new possibilities that unfamiliar surroundings presented. They derived the bare bones of their performances from the nature of the venues they chose, in keeping with John Dewey's view of the way that life takes place not only within but also because of our surroundings.305
Kaprow's art in the 1960s serves as a welcome vehicle for exploring the precepts of the debate regarding site specificity that flared up in the 1980s, when attention shifted from the spatial and formal characteristics of a place to its functional and historical characteristics.306 He used architecture as both the subject matter and the medium of his Happenings, not so much to reflect political issues as to expose art to the unpredictability of the public domain. In other words, it was not his aim to make political art but rather to give art free reign on the public stage. It comes as no surprise that he opens his book Assemblage, Environments and Happenings with a series of deliberations on architecture. Whereas, in his view, visual artists had once been dependent on architecture, in the 1950s a change set in. Art, as Kaprow puts it, changed faster than architecture and thus fitted "uncomfortably within the glaring geometry of the gallery box." As a result, many artists moved to open spaces: "They cannot wait for the new architecture."307
Kaprow's first Environments and his 18 Happenings in 6 Parts had already operated on an architectural level. In the years that followed, at events held at venues other than galleries and museums, he took advantage of the special atmospheres of different architectural backdrops. In these cases he never regarded the architecture solely as a spatial factor but always also saw it as a reflection of functional and historical change. This applied as much to the grimy setting for Yard (1961) as to the internal courtyard of a rundown luxury hotel used for Courtyard (1962).308 Other Happenings, including A Service for the Dead, Mushroom, Orange, Eat, Bon Marché, and Calling, all owed aspects of their subject matter and atmosphere to their given architecture.
Besides this literaluse of architecture as a stage set, Kaprow also deployed it as the focus of collective actions. What could be called the performance of architecture is, in my view, a key element of his art. Although neither he nor the relevant historiography have discussed this, the performance of architecture occurred in many of Kaprow's Happenings, those with an audience and those without. In many of his Happenings the action revolved around the collective construction and subsequent destruction of ephemeral architectures.
Kaprow's Happening Household took place on 3 May 1964 on a rubbish tip somewhere outside Ithaca, New York, as part of the Festival of Contemporary Art presented by Cornell University. Following Kaprow's introduction of the piece in a lecture hall at the university, the participants drove to the site in their cars. There were no spectators. The score outlined a ritualized battle of the sexes, with a group of men and women in the background as a chorus of sorts. The morning was spent constructing the set. The men built a tower from items they found at the dump-poles, planks, ropes, car tires, and more. The women built a nest and put up washing lines around it, from which they hung old shirts. In the afternoon more cars arrived, towing a smoking, burned-out car. The chorus, taking cover in the trees, formed a circle around the scene. The women stayed in their nest, shrieking. The men toppled the wreck into a ditch and covered it with jam. They dipped slices of bread into the jam and ate them (see figure 16). The women went to the car and licked the jam. Meanwhile the men went to the nest and stole the clothes hanging on the line. Then they destroyed the nest, returned to the car, drove the women away, and started to consume the jam themselves. The women ran away screaming angrily and demolished the men's tower.
As the chorus approached the center, making more and more noise, the women enticed the men ever closer until they were able to tear back the stolen shirts, which they promptly flung into a blazing fire. Next they took off their blouses and waved them around in triumph, singing rock and roll hits. The men threw smoke bombs into the garbage; the chorus had now reached the car wreck and started to lick the jam. This prompted the men to return to the car, which they destroyed with sledgehammers, egged on by the women. Once the men set the wreck on fire, the women left the scene in the cars they had arrived in, blaring their horns. The men and the chorus gathered around the smoking wreck, lit up cigarettes, and waited until the car was completely burned out. Then they silently made their way home.
Household was the high point of Kaprow's early architectural performances, whose participants enacted the construction of dwellings, thereby creating, shifting, and destroying territorial boundaries. On one hand the title points to the household as the framework for daily occurrences such as eating, sleeping, dressing, cooking, washing, and mending and as a place where individuals live collectively under the same roof. On the other hand, as a metaphor it also stands for a stronghold and the defense of one's dwelling. The household is understood here as the stage for existential dramas of constructing and tearing down norms of all kinds. The various topics Household touched on range from the problematics of sexual liberation to the growing interest in the 1960s in rural living to the sociology of an affluent society.
The participants were mainly students from Cornell University. As residents at the university campus they had left the familiar structure of their parental homes but were not yet involved in setting up their own households. Living in dormitories, sheltered from the outside world, they were used to having to keep house as members of a group and were acquainted with the resulting inevitable territorial struggles and subtle hierarchical processes; thus the Happening provided an opportunity for them to play out the joys and sorrows of communal living and eating and above all of the contact they might be having with the opposite sex. As such Household embodies much of the adolescent characteristics of Happenings, which Kaprow described as typical of a society that was still finding its way toward "cultural maturity."309 The playful enactment of conflicts in Happenings such as Fight, Tree, Calling, and Household is in fact in keeping with a notion of art that, metaphorically speaking, plays out on the pathway from childhood to adulthood.310 In the early 1960s more than ever before, art (and the economy) was expected to demonstrate continuous growth, which implies something akin to eternal youth.
Cornell University was known in the 1960s as a venue for the interaction of architecture, landscape architecture, and art. In 1969 the Andrew Dickson White Museum presented the exhibition Earth Art and, in so doing, set the seal on the institutionalization of this new artistic movement. Household constituted a particular challenge to the students of architecture: for once they were not working on a small scale, with models or sketches and plans, refining their ideas in the context of a virtually endless sheet of white paper and an eternity of creative freedom. On the contrary, now-in accordance with specific rules-they were collectively erecting and destroying ephemeral structures in a real space and in real time, limited to just one day.311 Kaprow, as the author of and a coparticipant in the Happening, had presented them not with plans but merely with a "typology"; he had only suggested they might construct a tower and a nest. There were no norms for the beauty or historicity of the design-in fact, in this context the idea of a design as such was obviously nonsensical. The finished form was the outcome of a process that had nothing to do with planning and relied entirely on collective, pragmatic decision making. The resulting architecture was unique, not in terms of Modernist originality but as an event of such complexity that it could never be repeated in this form and could barely be described.
This is not to say that Kaprow was aiming for some form of bricolage, as Claude Lévi-Strauss defined it at much the same time, nor that the concurrent exhibition Architecture without Architects inspired him.312 He was not interested in exploring processes of creativity. And the notion of bricolage presumes that there is such a thing as a normal case, that is to say, nonbricolage. In Household, which demonstrates Kaprow's pragmatic approach to art, the normal case turns out to be the handling of found materials, makeshift construction, and gratifying destruction-it involves seeking out the path of least resistance and constantly making compromises within the given situation. In that respect, Kaprow's praxis has a clear affinity with that of Robert Smithson, who expressed scorn for the fetishization of concepts. While Kaprow did use a score to communicate the course of the action, it was not a concept; it was merely a manual and had no artistic value in its own right.
The location for the event, away from the university campus, of course referenced the American suburbs, the type of residential area where most of the students had been raised.313 The garbage dump, related to the old-tire depository in Yard, can be read as an inverse image of the suburb, that territorial reflection of the unchecked economic growth and baby boom following the Second World War.314 Yet Kaprow's focus was in no sense on the interconnections between forms of urban living and real estate speculation, state funding and aesthetic standardization, economics and taste, as in Dan Graham's ironic illustrated essay "Homes for America" of 1966.315 Nor was he pessimistically demonstrating the destruction of nature as a consequence of urbanization, as Peter Blake did in his influential 1964 book God's Own Junkyard.316 On the contrary, in my view at least, as someone who lived in the suburbs, Kaprow wanted to convey a sense of the periphery as a zone where people were still free to do as they liked; at the same time he was allowing participants to experience, in a playful manner, the speed with which households are set up and dismantled and the drama of trade and commerce, of territorial acquisition and expansion, in quick motion, so to speak.
According to Kaprow, the fragility of Household was one of the main features that distinguished Happenings from other art forms: "Physical fragility ... is the central expression of this art's difference from the past." Moreover, the very transience of the art of the twentieth century made it what it was: "Since the first decade of this century, picture and construction have more and more exhibited a short life span, betraying within a few years, even months, signs of decay." The Happening highlighted the rapid cycle of change that shaped both art and reality in the twentieth century, by, as it were, accelerating and literally involving the participant in a pattern of "creation-decay-creation almost as one watches."317 For Kaprow this representation of constant change was "more fundamental than our 'throwaway' culture."318
In October 1967 a number of strange constructions appeared in Los Angeles. Groups of people, adults and children, were seen hauling blocks of ice from trucks and building rectangular structures with them. Salt made the blocks stick together. The finished open-topped structures were a little taller than the average man (see figure 17). Over the course of a few days they melted away entirely. The solid cubes dwindled to amorphous lumps and finally dissolved into nothingness. The water trickled away, leaving no trace on the dry ground. A poster inviting people to participate in the Happening and a few photographs of the event were all that survived. The poster included the instructions for the Happening: "During three days, about twenty rectangular enclosures or ice blocks (measuring about 30 feet long, 10 wide and 8 high) are built throughout the city. Their walls are unbroken. They are left to melt."319
This Happening, Fluids, turned out to be the high point not only of Kaprow's architectural performances but also of his impact on the American art world. The context for this event was his long-planned midcareer retrospective at the Pasadena Art Museum. A new installation of Yard was presented in the company of paintings, assemblages, and collages dating back to 1953. The walls of the museum were draped with lengths of fabric to alleviate the "neutral" exhibition situation. A comprehensive catalogue was published to accompany the show.320 The core of the exhibition was Fluids, presented at various urban locations in Los Angeles County. The plan was to erect ice structures at thirty sites. It seems that in the end there were about fifteen structures actually built. The locations included open areas next to a McDonald's restaurant in Pasadena and a Body Shop in Los Angeles, a private residence in Beverly Hills, a house in Pasadena, a construction company, sites under two bridges in Pasadena, parking lots, and empty building plots. The Union Ice Company delivered 405,000 pounds of ice, paid for-according to a newspaper report-by an anonymous East Coast sponsor.321
As one might expect of a Happening for a retrospective, Fluids was paradoxical: a dynamic, ephemeral work of art that also served as a monumental commemoration of Kaprow's work. The remit was perfectly fulfilled by a "memorial" that must have been fun to build and of its own accord took leave of this world within just a few days. From a distance the edifices constructed from roughly hewn blocks had the air of archaic temples, inaccessible to unbelievers, sanctuaries for the preservation and presentation of all that was most sacred. As such they highlighted the role of architecture in drawing liturgical and political boundaries. They also called to mind igloos and warehouses.
The sites for the ice structures were important to Kaprow, who described them as examples of the "twilight zone of indifferent architecture," where warehouses and distribution centers could be seen shooting out of ground on the basis of "planned obsolescence," often financed with mortgages issued on condition that these premises would exist for a maximum of ten years.322 In view of this, I agree with Robert Haywood's description of Fluids as the high point of both Kaprow's critique of capitalism and his artistic autonomy as a political activist, because this Happening "maintained its autonomy from active New Left political resistance by transforming collective, participatory labor into a dystopian allegory of capitalist production, consumption, and obsolescence."323
With the ice structures so obviously prey to the passage of time and their construction and disintegration playing out under the eyes of their makers and spectators, Fluids could be read as an allegory of the way that money circulates in a capitalist economy. The fact that, as in most of Kaprow's Happenings, the male participants worked stripped to the waist was yet another indication that they represented the working class and were in part an allusion to the iconography of the Works Progress Administration art of the 1930s. The diverse locations of the ice works-next to a fast-food restaurant with notoriously underpaid staff, close to a business specializing in body care products for the middle classes, but also in a public park, a recreation ground in an exclusive residential area-underlined Kaprow's message that every kind of territorial ownership depended on (alienated) work. At the same time, participation in the Happening was purely voluntary, a game. In the glowing heat of the California late summer, handling the blocks of ice was no doubt hard work but must also at times have been pleasing. Fluids thus also alluded to bodies, to sensations of heat and cold, to the joy of making something, and to the relish we may feel at the sight of something disintegrating.
Fluids took place at the height of the debate regarding the place of sculpture in society. Between 1965 and 1969 the country was positively deluged with sculpture and open-air exhibitions, marking the triumph of Minimal Art and displacing the earlier wave of Happenings, which came to a reluctant close with Nine Evenings and Kaprow's large-scale events Gas and Self-Service. For Kaprow and other artists, such as Smithson, the return to the medium of monolithic sculpture was nothing short of reactionary. Stasis now replaced the dynamism of the art of the early 1960s. Idealistic utopias replaced pragmatic experimentation. A desire for monuments replaced pleasure in the moment. In Fluids Kaprow spoke to this, using architecture as a metaphor for how the general acceptance of categorical norms places constraints on artistic possibilities. Fluids was not architecture as such; it was about architecture. Smithson took a similar approach with his notions of ruins in reverse and dearchitecturization, as did Gardon Matta-Clark when he coined the term Anarchitecture.324Smithson even asked Kaprow to send him any photographs he might have of Fluids, which he intended to use in an essay at one point.325
Fluids can be read allegorically as a critique of notions of abstraction and reduction, essence and presence that exponents of Late Modernism and Minimal Art actively endorsed. For the fluids that formed during construction and ruination were never entirely present. When Kaprow reduced a painstakingly constructed structure to its essence-to nothing-he also brought the debate to an ironic close. Looking back, he described the whole undertaking as "a way to make minimalism more minimal."326
However, this event was to win him few friends. Jane Livingston's review of Kaprow's retrospective in Artforum, the main organ for Minimal Art, neither pictured nor mentioned Fluids. Adopting an unusually aggressive tone, she lambasted the exhibition and described Kaprow as "less an artist than ... a phenomenon." As if that were not enough, she added that "the Kaprow phenomenon belongs essentially to the history of art. He has made his objectives not only clear but virtually transparent: he has at every opportunity talked about himself and his intentions, to the point where ... the mystery has gone out." Although she admitted that Kaprow had been one of the main pioneers of Happenings, she also cast doubt on their art-historical relevance: "In the context of all the arts, the Happening has so far proved to be a precarious and, ironically, a predictable venture." And although, in her view, Kaprow's critique of the traditional role of museums and galleries was still relevant, she also accused him of concealing museum walls in order to simulate life-and dismissed his Environments Yard and Push and Pull: A Furniture Comedy for Hans Hofmann as "old hat."327
Kaprow responded, as "Dad Kaprow," with a sarcastic letter pointing out in no uncertain terms that he was not interested in "art versus life" but rather in "what art may become in life-contexts."328 He did not respond to the accusation of making his objectives "virtually transparent." At issue here was, once again, a fundamental matter that concerned not least the demarcation of roles fulfilled by the artist, the critic, and the art historian. If an artist reflects and theorizes on his production to such an extent that the mystery goes out, the critic is rendered obsolete. However, it seems that at the time this exchange of views sparked no wider interest.
It was not long before Kaprow once again put pen to paper, this time with a critique of Robert Morris's essay "Anti-form."329 Making it clear that he was disinclined to trust Morris's argument, he reminded his readers that Morris's, Jackson Pollock's, and Claes Oldenburg's works always functioned in relation to a rectilinear frame, be it in a studio, in a gallery space, or on the page of an art journal: "Ruled lines and measurable corners in such spaces tell us how far, how big, how soft, how atmospheric, indeed, how 'amorphous' an art work is within these lines and corners. Rectilinearity, by definition, is relational." Kaprow further reminded his readers of the tradition of Environments and Happenings, which Morris-Kaprow sardonically suggested-might well not have witnessed firsthand. For Kaprow, these events were above all site specific: "The important fact was that almost everything was built into the space it was shown in, not transported from studio to showcase."330 He explained in some detail how the geometric structures that exist around most of us also condition artists:
Most humans, it seems, still put up fences around their acts and thoughts-even when these are piles of shit-for they have no other way of delimiting them.... When some of us have worked in natural settings, say in a meadow, woods, or mountain range, our cultural training has been so deeply ingrained that we have simply carried a mental rectangle with us to drop around whatever we were doing. This made us feel at home.... It may be proposed that the social context and surrounding of art are more potent, more meaningful, more demanding of an artist's attention than the art itself! Put differently, it's not what artists touch that counts most. It's what they don't touch.331
Kaprow, in consequence, put much emphasis on the articulation of limits and boundaries-on their fabrication and destruction, their shifting and altering. The motif of a wall, or delimitation, that features in Fluids reappeared in various guises in his work in the coming years. In Transfer: A Happening for Christo (1968) it took the form of barrels stacked on top of one another; in Overtime (For Walter De Maria) (1968) it appeared as a displaced fence; and it was a wall of cement blocks, bread, and marmalade in Sweet Wall (1970). The Galerie René Block commissioned Sweet Wall, which took place in West Berlin on ground laid waste by the Second World War, not far from the Berlin Wall. The score could hardly have been simpler:
Berlin, empty lot, near the Wall
Building a wall (cement blocks, ca. 30 m × 1.5 m)
Cementing blocks with bread and jam
Removing material, empty lot332
Kaprow and others stuck the cement blocks together with bread and jam. As soon as the wall had been built, the participants pushed it down (see figure 18). Dick Higgins took photographs of the event, and a cameraman filmed it.
Kaprow later wrote a short commentary on this work, which is in effect also a commentary on his notion of political art. In this text he distinguishes between two kinds of such art. On one hand there is art that is filled with obvious political connotations, which the artist hopes will immediately instigate direct, sudden social change. On the other hand there is art that operates on a metaphorical level and is intended for the already enlightened. This art is also intended to induce political change, but there is no certainty as to how or when-in other words, it is more of a long-term endeavor. Sweet Wall falls into the second groupbecause, as Kaprow said, it "contains ironical politics. It is parody. It is for a small group of colleagues who can appreciate the humor and sadness of political life. It is for those who cannot rest politically indifferent, but who know that for every political solution there are at least ten new problems." As he pointed out, unlike the actual Berlin Wall, Sweet Wall was torn down after being erected and was done within a matter of hours. It was out on open ground and hemmed in no one. It blatantly mimicked the real Wall. As an idea implemented by a number of individuals, Sweet Wall could be played out with impunity. Its symbolic meaning could be established and immediately extinguished again. The participants could speculate for themselves and others on the practical value of that kind of freedom. "That was its sadness and its irony."333
Add source code 15W5487 to get your discount at checkout.
Cannot be combined with any other offers.