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Allan Kaprow


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(b Atlantic City, NJ, 23 Aug. 1927; d Encinitas, California, 5 Apr. 2006).

American artist and art theorist, best known as the main creator of happenings. His studies included a period with the musician John Cage (see Black Mountain College), from whom he took over the idea of chance and indeterminacy in aesthetic organization. In the mid-1950s he gave up painting for assemblages and then environments, and in 1958 he published an article in Art News in which he argued for the abandonment of craftsmanship and permanence in the fine arts and advocated the incorporation of perishable materials. His first happenings took place in 1958–9. Kaprow believed that ‘the line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.’ He was a vigorous promoter of his ideas through his teaching at various universities and his voluminous output of writings, as well as through his own performances. Many well-known artists, for example, Oldenburg, cite him as an influence on their work. However, he was exasperated by the way in which the word ‘happening’ came to be applied indiscriminately to any trendy or rebellious activity (such as ‘love-ins’ and political demonstrations) and tried to distance himself from it. He disliked being treated as a guru and in his later years avoided publicity.

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