Happening or happening

DEFINITION

Happenings were loosely structured theatrical pieces from the mid-1950s through the mid-1960s, which shared qualities of unexpectedness (a large margin for improvisation), variety of means, and chaos, with the reactions of the audience potentially influencing the action under way. Although there are elements of theatricality involved in happenings, they took place without traditionally theatrical participants or environments, and resulted from an evolution in modernist art in which the outside edges of the work are blurred, broken, or nonexistent. This trend sprang from artists' reaching for the means of establishing more direct relationships between artist and audience, and between art and life, simultaneous with their rejection of the market's control of art. A happening might take a political or sociological direction, but it could also take a poetic or playful one. Other terms referring to a happening might make it more of an event, a concert, a performance, or an action.From the 1950s, some works of music composer John Cage (American, 1912-1992) may be considered as prototypical happenings. Some were highly improvised, incorporating works of multiple performers, visual art, dance, and poetry.Nine artists in Japan, known as the Guta? group, including Murakami Saburo, Kudo Tetsumi, and Shiraga Kazvo, focused on the creation of happenings as early as 1955.The happening gained prominence in the artworld largely through the efforts of Allan Kaprow (American, 1927-). In 1959 Kaprow created 18 Happenings in 6 Parts in the Reuben Gallery in New York. It was Kaprow who coined the term Happening. He defined it as: "An assemblage of events performed or perceived in more than one time and place. Its material environments may be constructed, taken over directly from what is available, or altered slightly, just as its activities may be invented or commonplace. A Happening, unlike a stage play, may occur at a supermarket, driving along a highway, under a pile of rags, and in a friend's kitchen, either at once or sequentially. If sequential, time may extend to more than a year. The Happening is performed according to a plan without rehearsal, audience, or repetition." Allan Kaprow. Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, Abrams, NY, 1966. "The term denotes a piece of art that does not focus on an object, but on an event. The artist begins with plan of action in which the public is brought into an active relationship with the art event. The action does not take place in the closed environment of a gallery but rather in various public places of a city, where the artist breaks in suddenly with his performance. In fact, a Happening is an irruption into daily space, organized at times and in places where no artistic production is expected. The event thus develops by an improvisation that breaks the mental habits of the spectator. It begins by a simple scenario made of series of simple daily activities that, because of their simplicity, involve the public. In this way, time enters art as real duration.In fact, the action takes place in a space and at definite times in which the result is the collective experience and the leftover traces, the photographs, are the documents of a time that was lived." Michael Kirby. Happening, 1968.No film of a happening was considered by the artists to be the work of art itself, but rather a documentation of it.Among numerous other artists involved in the early happenings were Red Grooms (American, 1937-), Claes Oldenburg (American, 1929-), Robert Whitman (American), Jean-Jacques Lebel (French), Ben Vautier (French, 1935-), Joseph Beuys (German, 1926-1981), Wolf Vostell (German, 1932-), and "Vienna Actionists": G?nter Brus (Austrian, 1938-), Hermann Nitsch (Austrian, 1938-), and Rudolf Schwarzkogler (Austrian, 1940-1969). Some of the above were participants in the Fluxus movement, in which events amounting to happenings were often called "Aktions." Toward the end of the 1960s, two main trends emerged: performance art, which was more structured, sometimes narrative, and reduced the audience's involvement; and Body Art, in which the artist's body became the medium.Also see commodity, conceptual art, earth art, and environment art.

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