Definitions

happening

happening

[hap-uh-ning]
happening, an artistic event of a theatrical nature, but usually improvised spontaneously without the framework of a plot. The term originated with the creation and performance in 1959 of Allan Kaprow's "18 Happenings in 6 Parts." This work emphasized various sorts of performances and experiences, including slide projection, dance, and taste and odor sensations. Many examples of the genre required audience participation, and the aesthetic effect produced was a result of the combination of events experienced. Celebrated happenings include Claes Oldenburg's "Store" (1961), "Autobodies" (1963), and "Washes" (1965); Robert Rauschenberg's "Map Room II" (1965); Robert Whitman's "The American Moon" (1960); and Kaprow's own "Calling" (1965).

See RoseLee Goldberg, Performance Art: From Futurism to the Present (1988) and R. E. Haywood, Revolution of the Ordinary: Allen Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings (1993).

A happening is a performance, event or situation meant to be considered as art. Happenings take place anywhere, are often multi-disciplinary, often lack a narrative and frequently seek to involve the audience in some way. Key elements of happenings are planned, but artists sometimes retain room for improvisation.

In the later sixties, perhaps due to the depiction in films of hippie culture, the term was used much less specifically to mean any gathering of interest, from a pool hall meetup or a jamming of a few young people to a beer blast or fancy formal party.

History

Origins

Allan Kaprow first coined the term happening in the Spring of 1957 at an art picnic at George Segal's farm to describe the art pieces that were going on. Happening first appeared in print in the Winter 1959 issue of the Rutgers University undergraduate literary magazine, Anthologist. The form was imitated and the term was adopted by artists across the U.S., Germany, and Japan. Jack Kerouac referred to Kaprow as "the Happenings man," and an ad showing a woman floating in outer space declared, "I dreamt I was in a happening in my Maidenform brassiere."

Kaprow’s piece 18 Happenings in 6 Parts (1959) is commonly cited as the first happening, although that distinction is sometimes given to a 1952 performance of Theater Piece No. 1 at Black Mountain College by John Cage, one of Kaprow's teachers in the mid-1950s. Cage stood reading from a ladder, Charles Olson read from another ladder, Robert Rauschenberg showed some of his paintings and played scratched phonograph records, David Tudor performed on a prepared piano and Merce Cunningham danced. All these things took place at the same time, among the audience rather than on a stage. Happenings flourished in New York City in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Key contributors to the form included Carolee Schneemann, Red Grooms, Robert Whitman, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg. Some of their work is documented in Michael Kirby's book Happenings (1966).

Around the world

Poet and painter Adrian Henri claimed to have organized the first happenings in England in Liverpool in 1962, taking place during the Merseyside Arts Festival. The most important event in London was the Albert Hall “International Poetry Incarnation” on June 11, 1965, where an audience of 7,000 people witnessed and participated in performances by some of the leading avant-garde young British and American poets of the day (see British Poetry Revival and Poetry of the United States). One of the participants, Jeff Nuttall, went on to organise a number of further happenings, often working with his friend Bob Cobbing, sound poet and performance poet.

In Belgium, the first happenings were organized around 1965–1968 in Antwerp, Brussels and Ostend by artists Hugo Heyrman and Panamarenko.

In the Netherlands, Provo organized happenings around the little statue "Het Lieverdje" on the Spui, a square in the centre of Amsterdam, from 1966 till 1968. Police often raided these events.

In Australia, the Yellow House Artist Collective in Sydney housed 24-hour happenings throughout the early 1970s.

Behind the Iron Curtain, in Poland, artist and theater director Tadeusz Kantor staged the first happenings starting in 1965. Also, in the second half of 1980s, a student-based happening movement Orange Alternative founded by Major Waldemar Fydrych became known for its much attended happenings (over 10 thousand participants at one time) aimed against the military regime led by General Jaruzelski and the fear blocking the Polish society ever since the Martial Law had been imposed in December 1981.

See also

References

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