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Happenings Artworks

Happenings Collage

Started: 1958

Ended: Early 1970s

Artworks and Artists of Happenings

The below artworks are the most important in Happenings - that both overview the major ideas of the movement, and highlight the greatest achievements by each artist in Happenings. Don't forget to visit the artist overview pages of the artists that interest you.

American Moon (1960)

By: Robert Whitman

American Moon by Robert Whitman was first performed at the Reuben Gallery in New York. The piece consisted of six paper tunnels that radiated outwards from the performance area in which the audience would sit to watch piles of cloth being moved accompanied by various sounds. Curtains with grids of paper were then hung in front of the tunnels and a movie was projected onto them while performers made slight movements to the cloth causing distortions in the movie. At the end of the screening the tunnels were ripped down and the curtains removed. Lights flashed as figures rolled on the floor, a giant plastic balloon was rolled around and someone swung on a trapeze, all to a soundtrack of a vacuum cleaner. Whitman called these works "abstract theater" as abstracted sounds and images were a significant aspect of his work. In the variety of frenzied activity, Whitman claimed his work was much like a three-ring circus.

Yard (1961)

By: Allan Kaprow

Yard by Kaprow involved the random scattering and piling of tires over the floor and an invitation to visitors to climb over them. This piece was supposedly in response to Jackson Pollock's "drip" paintings: the incorporation of chance as a mainstay of the work, but with a certain amount of control left to the artist. Just as Pollock had a certain amount of power over his drip paintings, aesthetics were still very much subject to chance. Here Kaprow used the tires as Pollock used his paint. The result- a haphazard pile of tires nevertheless circumscribed into a semblance of compositional order- is a three-dimensional translation of Pollock's practice. Kaprow's pieces often involved materials from everyday life, including people; Kaprow stated, "Life is much more interesting than art." Yard, like many Happenings, has been recreated several times since Kaprow's initial installation, and each time a unique artwork is produced.

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Stamp Vendor (1961)

By: Robert Watts

Stamp Vendor involved stamps that artist Robert Watts created and placed inside of actual stamp dispensers that Watts "borrowed" from the United States Post Office. The "borrowing" (stealing) was in protest of certain policies of the United States government at the time Watts deemed oppressive. The stamp dispensers were put on display in exhibitions and viewers could purchase the stamps by placing coins in the coin slots. The stamps, designed by Watts, had different images on them ranging from gas cans to nude women. This piece differs from many other Happenings for the smaller, more intimate scale and for the fact that the viewer was interacting with an object as opposed to a person. Also, unlike many other Happenings that eschewed the traditional art object, it should be noted that by interacting with the Stamp Vendor, the viewer was then able to take with them a work of art: the stamp created by Watts.

Eat (1964)

By: Allan Kaprow

Allan Kaprow's Eat took place in the Bronx, in caves that used to be part of an old brewery. Visitors could make one-hour reservations through the Smolin Gallery to view the piece, which was a participatory, sensory, gustatory experience that involved repeated audio. When the viewer walked in he was confronted with a man's voice repeating, "Get 'em!", two girls offering varieties of wine, banana bunches and apples tied to strings and hanging from the ceiling, a girl frying bananas on a hot plate, bread and jam in an enclosure that one could only get to by climbing a ladder, as well as the man (who was repeating, "Get 'em!,") handing out pieces of salted boiled potatoes. The viewer was free to eat any of the food in the exhibit. Not only did the viewer mold the experience to his or her personal choices, but they also had the ability to change the piece for the viewer that came in after them. The complicated imagery, opportunities for participation, and uniqueness of the staging make Eat a typical Happening.

A Chair with a History (1966)

By: George Brecht

A Chair with a History by George Brecht consisted of a chair that he bought and a red leather bound book placed on the seat of the chair. The viewer was invited to add to the "history" of the chair by sitting in it and recording the events taking place in the leather bound book. Brecht was greatly influenced by Marcel Duchamp's views on chance, clearly seen in this piece: whatever is recorded in the book has no relation to the artist's intentions or goals and is entirely in the hands of the viewer. Brecht's projects were often more intimate in scale than other artists who put on Happenings, as seen here with the piece entirely focused on a simple chair, the solitary act of sitting and writing, and the focus on a single person's experience.

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The Thousand Symphonies (1968)

By: Dick Higgins

The Thousand Symphonies by Dick Higgins is a portion of compositional paper that has been shot with a machine gun at a rifle range. The bullet holes became the "notes" that would be played by an orchestra. The original orchestra performance of The Thousand Symphonies was conducted by Philip Corner at Douglass College, the women's residential college at Rutgers. The element of chance is represented here by the unpredictable placements of the bullet holes as well as, to a smaller extent, the decisions made by the conductor when the piece was performed. Music was an element of Futurist and Dadaist work and had an obvious influence on this piece.

Related Movements and Major Works

Theater Piece No. 1 (1952)

Movement: Neo-Dada (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: John Cage (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Cage's Theater Piece No. 1, also known as simply "The Event," was a seminal performance for the evolution of Neo-Dada, paving the way for the movement's signature collaborations and multimedia basis. Conceived by Cage, the piece involved several simultaneous, unscripted performance components including a poetry reading, music, dance, photographic slide projections, film, and four panels of Robert Rauschenberg's White Paintings (1951) suspended from the ceiling in the shape of a cross. While Cage set certain guidelines for which medium each performer used, he let each individual artist determine the specifics of their role within the performance, emphasizing the function of chance in determining the course of the event. The aspects were all integral to the development of the Neo-Dada aesthetic as well as later performance art, and were encapsulated within this one work in which many of the key artists within the Neo-Dada movement played integral roles.

Grapefruit (1964)

Movement: Conceptual Art (Read Movement Overview, History, and Artworks pages)

Artist: Yoko Ono (Read Full Artist Overview, Biography, and Artworks pages)

Yoko Ono's extremely plain-looking and oddly titled book, Grapefruit, first released in 1964, is an important early example of Conceptual art and of the link between it and Fluxus. Although the work, technically speaking, is an object, the art extends beyond its material constraints as it contains a series of artistic "event scores" - various instructions for readers to carry out, if they so choose. Listing some 150 sets of instructions divided into five sections (Music, Painting, Event, Poetry, and Object), Grapefruit acts as something of a user's manual in the Fluxus tradition with a perspective similar to Joseph Beuys's that "every human being is an artist." This book not only subordinates the importance of the physical object to the document or springboard for artistic practice, but also allows for execution of the works by anyone, potentially resulting in an infinite number of artworks stemming from one source. As with other Conceptual works, however, whether the instructions are in fact carried out is of little importance, as the artistic idea is paramount.

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