Related Content

Related Overviews

Allan Kaprow (1927—2006)

performance art

Jim Dine (b. 1935)

John Cage (1912—1992) American composer, pianist, and writer

See all related overviews in Oxford Reference »


More Like This

Show all results sharing this subject:

  • Art & Architecture


Show Summary Details



Quick Reference

A form of entertainment, often carefully planned but usually including some degree of spontaneity, in which an artist performs or directs an event combining elements of theatre and the visual arts. The term was coined by Allan Kaprow, to whom the concept of the happening was bound up with his rejection of traditional principles of craftsmanship and permanence in the arts. Happenings had close affinities with Performance art (the two terms have sometimes been used more or less synonymously) and they were not restricted like environments to the confines of a gallery or some other specific site. The composer and artist John Cage, one of Kaprow's teachers, organized a performance at Black Mountain College in 1952 that has sometimes been described as the first happening. Kaprow's own first happening is said to have taken place in 1958 at George Segal's chicken farm near New Brunswick, New Jersey; his first work to be titled with the term was 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, performed at the Reuben Gallery, New York, in 1959. Apart from Cage and Kaprow, the artists chiefly responsible for the development of the form in the USA include Jim Dine, Roy Lichtenstein, Claes Oldenburg, and Robert Rauschenberg. Outside America, the happening was widely exploited during the 1960s and 1970s—in Japan, for example, and in Europe. The term has often been used to cover staged demonstrations for political or social propaganda, as for example in the work of the Fluxus group (whose happenings in Germany were usually called Aktions).

Reference entries

View all reference entries »