Allan Kaprow is known for introducing the notion of the ‘happening’ to the world of art – and for legitimizing it as a “work of art” – Kaprow participated in the 13th Bienal de São Paulo, in 1975, in the show Video Art USA with Nam June Paik, and Vito Acconci among others.
That said, the material pertaining to the artist’s file found in the Bienal Archive is in fact much older and was most probably collected by Wanda Svevo when she started to compile material for the artists’s files around the time when the Archive was first being established.
Form fillied out by the artist with photograph from May 1st, 1957
In the form Kaprow completed for the Archive one notes that in 1957 many of the works by the artist were drawings and paintings.
EIn 1958, at the age of 31, Kaprow contacted John Cage to ask him for help with sounds for his work Environments – sound pieces that preceded the happenings – and he ended up becoming his student at the New School of Social Research, on a course called Experimental Composition, along with Dick Higgins and other who, like Kaprow and Cage would go on to become members of Fluxus.
Kaprow called the work he did during the course with Cage “prototypes for the happenings” since even though there was already a great deal of experimentation with sound connected to the visual components, he had not yet arrived at a name for what would come to be a new artistic form that questioned the art system, and which aspired to the integration of the binomial “art-life”, a form which involved inviting the public to actively participate in the work.
In October of 1959, Allan Kaprow inaugurated the Reuben Gallery in New York following the closure of the Hansa Gallery which, from 1957 to 1959, had served as the platform for much of Cage’s experimental work. Kaprow accepted the invitation from Renné Miller and Anita Reuben to be the program consultant for the gallery whose mission was to be more of a “center of energy” than an art gallery. The inauguration of the gallery saw the birth of the happening, with a series that came to be considered Kaprow’s most famous: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts.
The invite for the happening incorporated the artist’s file from the Archive and was in many ways already a “happening” in itself – it was a piece of graphic design that when opened became a poster and when closed, transformed into a letter with a provocative text directed at the invited guests: whilst instigating the recipients to participate and dropping hints and at what would happen over the 6 days, it also asked for funding for the project. Kaprow was definitively a precursor.
18 Happenings in 6 Parts: front and back of Allan Kaprow’s invite-letter-poster-declaration
Detail of the text of the invitation