Allan Kaprow

Past Exhibition 23 Sep – 24 Oct 2009 New York, 69th Street



By the late 1950s, American painter Allan Kaprow — formally trained in the era of Abstract Expressionism — began to view the action of Action Painting as far more important than painting itself. With the 1959 work 18 Happenings in 6 parts, a series of seemingly random but carefully choreographed activities executed with such friends as composer John Cage and artist Robert Rauschenberg, he embarked upon a career of intellectually rigorous site-specific, impermanent works that defied commoditization and ultimately gave birth to performance and installation art. The inventor of Happenings and Environments, Kaprow joyously incorporated improvisation and public participation within and beyond the traditional museum and gallery context. “Life is much more interesting than art,” he wrote. “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid, and perhaps indistinct, as possible.”

Fifty years later and in celebration of the opening of its first American gallery, Hauser & Wirth will present Allan Kaprow’s seminal Environment Yard, an enduringly influential work — a veritable mountain of black rubber auto tires and tarpaper-wrapped forms through which visitors jumped and crawled — first made by the artist in 1961 and radically reinterpreted in other locations ten times before his death in 2006. Opening to the public on September 23, 2009, the exhibition ‘Allan Kaprow YARD’ will present a dramatic, sprawling reinvention of Yard by prominent performance artist and interventionist William Pope.L at the site of the work’s original creation: the Manhattan townhouse at 32 East 69th Street, then home to the legendary Martha Jackson Gallery and soon the address of the new Hauser & Wirth New York gallery.

A full press release can be downloaded from the menu on the left.

Yard (To Harrow), 1961/2009
William Pope.L
Hauser & Wirth
23 September—24 October, 2009
Open Tuesday—Saturday, 10 AM—6 PM
32 East 69th Street (between Madison and Park Avenues) in Manhattan’s Upper East Side 6 Train to 68th Street/Hunter College, walk north and take a left on 69th Street, then proceed one and a half blocks to find the gallery on your left.

Yard (Junkyard), 1961/2009
Josiah McElheny
Queens Museum of Art
23 September—4 October, 2009
Wednesday—Sunday, 12 noon—6 PM
New York City Building, Flushing Meadows Corona Park in Queens 7 Train to Willets Point/Shea Stadium, follow the yellow signs on a ten-minute walk
through the park to the museum, which is located next to the Unisphere

Yard (Sign), 1961/2009
Sharon Hayes
New York Marble Cemetery

2 October—4 October, 2009
Open each day, 10 AM—6 PM
411/2 Second Avenue (between 2nd and 3rd Streets) in Manhattan’s East Village 6 Train to Bleecker Street or F and V Trains to Second Avenue, the Cemetery’s gate is on Second Avenue but is easy to miss—their next door neighbor, Provenzano-Lanza at 43 Second Avenue, has a prominent tan awning, please look for this.


When Allan Kaprow made ‘Yard’ in 1961, New York was a different place.
Abstract Expressionism still held sway (though the rumblings of Pop could be heard by those with their ear to the ground), and Madison Square Garden was still a developer’s dream. Gleefully filling the outdoor courtyard of the then Martha Jackson Gallery with tires, a gesture whose documentation has become iconic, Kaprow definitively expanded sculpture’s possibilities (after all, he covered the figurative sculpture in the garden with tar paper), giving us a dramatically new approach to the problem of solids and voids. But it was also a rallying cry for art to create a new physical sensorium, a longing for bodies that moved, touched, and smelled, a desire for bodies that got dirty—bodies that played. Whether the affect of this invitation was caustic or magical remains a matter of debate (a debate taken up by the artists in this show), but artists heard the call and responded in kind. And so began the work of environments and happenings, followed by installations, performance, and relational aesthetics. This is a way to think of Kaprow as a benevolent grandfather in our all too familiar story about what happens to art in the Twentieth century.

There is a contemporary vogue for recreations of the past—from the wild success of ‘Mad Men’ to the art world’s restagings of past performances and ephemeral art from the 1960s and 1970s. Without question this exhibition partakes of this larger cultural zeitgeist, but its artists do so with wary caution. They have listened carefully to Kaprow. For all of Kaprow’s immersion in the life of the body, he was also a careful wordsmith. He knew that his environments and happenings would be repeated, and he specifically used the word reinvention to describe this activity. Not, tellingly, recreation, or restaging, or remaking, but reinvention. To my ear reinvention places a challenge on the table. It is an admonishment against nostalgia. A reinvention cannot be slavish imitation; it cannot offer the past as it once was. A reinvention is a way of thinking about time and history. A reinvention does not see the activities of the past as encased in resin, or clinging like barnacles to the hull of a large ship. A reinvention solicits curiosity. A reinvention is not objective; it is a call for interpretation. A reinvention is a question about what ideas from the past might mean in the present, and it wants those ideas to be useful, helpful, maybe even critical. A reinvention is ruthless, it asks the past to be more then a well-rehearsed story, it asks it to show up and play.

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About the artist

With the invention of ‘Happenings’ and ‘Environments’, Allan Kaprow embarked upon a career of intellectually rigorous, site-specific, and timed works that defied commoditization and ultimately gave birth to performance and installation art. His seminal work, ‘18 Happenings in 6 parts,’ 1959, an…

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