Allan Kaprow, Household, women licking jam off of a car, photo by Sol Goldberg, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Sol Goldberg Estate and Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Allan Kaprow, poster for Environments, Situations, Spaces, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

The Art Historian Whose Questions Changed 20th Century Art

Allan Kaprow, oranges hanging by strings, photo by Terry S. Lindquist, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Terry S. Lindquist and Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Allan Kaprow, Kaprow explaining Household, photographer unknown, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Allan Kaprow, 18 Happenings Cast of Participants, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Research Library, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Allan Kaprow, sketch for Beauty Parlor 2, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.


Geffen Contemporary
152 North Central Avenue
Los Angeles
Allan Kaprow – Art as Life
March 23, 2008-
June 30, 2008

Allan Kaprow – Art as Life is the first major retrospective of Allan Kaprow (1927-2006), one of the most influential artists of the postwar era.

The exhibition is a thought-provoking examination of a prolific and innovative career that spanned more than 50 years. Beginning with figurative paintings from the late 1940s, the exhibition traces the development of Kaprow’s oeuvre through works from the mid-1950s that he called Action Collages and eventually led to the creation of all-encompassing Environments. Integral to the exhibition are reinventions of Kaprow’s unprecedented Happenings of the late 1950s to mid-1960s in which events replaced objects as the focus of the artwork and the spectator played a pivotal role in the realization of the work.

Having held faculty positions at the California Institute of the Arts and the University of California, San Diego, Kaprow had a particularly strong connection to the Southern California contemporary art scene and a profound impact on his students.

Allan Kaprow–Art as Life is curated and co-organized by Stephanie Rosenthal and Eva Meyer-Hermann for the Haus der Kunst, Munich, and the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven. MOCA’s presentation of the exhibition is organi

ed by MOCA Curator Philipp Kaiser in collaboration with the Getty Research Institute’s Assistant Director for Contemporary Programs and Research Andrew Perchuk and artist Paul McCarthy.

Trained in the late 1940s as an art historian, Allan Kaprow was educated in painting by New York School — artist Hans Hofmann. Kaprow was theoretically and practically well equipped to question the prevailing style of abstract expressionism in New York in the 1950s and his early works grew into space-consuming assemblages of everyday objects, finally leading to entire Environments. After studying radical musical compositions with composer John Cage at the New School for Social Research, Kaprow began to incorporate elements of chance and unpredictability into his work. By the end of the ‘50s, Kaprow coined the term “Happening” by introducing theatrical categories into traditional artworks, transforming his pieces into activities and enactments. As the pioneer of this new mode of practice, Allan Kaprow redefined the relationship between the object and the viewer; people were no longer mere spectators of art, they became active participants.

The exhibition is organized into two related sections. The first, titled Museum as Mediation, includes a comprehensive selection of early works, with paintings Kaprow made while a student of Hans Hofmann. This segment of the exhibition also incorporates collages, scores, and activity sheets, as well as photographic and video documentation and examines the relationship between Happenings and action painting; the role of chance and indeterminacy; the influences of Jackson Pollock, John Cage, and feminism; and the artist’s reconsideration of the artwork as a physical object. The second section, Agency of Action, includes reinventions of Kaprow’s Happenings and Environments and actively demonstrates the interactive components of his work. Exclusive to MOCA’s presentation, this portion of the exhibition explores Kaprow’s core principles of site-specificity, impermanence, and doubt through sculptural interactions accompanied by the artist’s loosely scripted participant activities.

The reinventions of three Environments will be realized at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA by local artists, John Baldessari and Skylar Haskard, Allen Ruppersberg, and Barbara T. Smith, all of whom knew Allan Kaprow as a friend, colleague, and mentor. Also installed on site is a special project created by Suzanne Lacy, a former student and colleague of Kaprow, along with Peter Kirby and Michael Rotondi. The work titled Trade Talk is inspired by Kaprow’s unique practices and is based on one of his Happenings, Trading Dirt (1983). Los Angeles-based artist Paul McCarthy — a longtime friend and colleague of Allan Kaprow — has acted as a consultant and advisor on the reinventions of Happenings for MOCA and will recreate a selection of private Happenings during the course of the exhibition.

Illustrative of Kaprow’s influence in Southern California’s contemporary art landscape, 29 arts organizations and schools — including California Institute of the Arts, Critical Mass Performance Group, The Getty Research Institute, Hammer Museum at UCLA, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions (LACE), Loyola Marymount University, Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), Otis College of Art and Design, Santa Monica Museum of Art, University of California at San Diego, and University of Southern California — will participate in the restaging of some of Kaprow’s most iconic Happenings at various sites throughout Southern California. The Getty Foundation, one of the country’s leading funders of the arts, provided generous grant support to MOCA for the Happenings as part of the Foundation’s special initiative, On the Record: Art in Los Angeles, 1945–1980. A major collaboration between the Getty Foundation, the Getty Research Institute, and art institutions across Southern California, this program’s primary goal is to preserve and interpret the history of modern and contemporary art in postwar Los Angeles.

Allan Kaprow was born in Atlantic City, New Jersey, in 1927, grew up in Tucson, Arizona, and passed away in Encinitas, California, in April 2006. He studied art and philosophy at New York University and received a master’s degree in Art History from Columbia University. After studying with Hans Hofmann at the New York School, he co-founded the Hansa Gallery in Greenwich Village in 1952. Kaprow later went on to hold faculty positions at Rutgers University, the Pratt Institute, the State University of New York at Stony Brook, the California Institute of the Arts, and the University of California at San Diego.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue published by The Getty Research Institute. The publication will include new scholarship comprising original essays, a bibliography, and an annotated exhibition history chronicling original iterations of works as well as reinventions.

A special MOCA web initiative at provides a comprehensive calendar of Happenings, which will be reinvented by 29 collaborating arts and cultural institutions in Southern California. The web site will also act as an exhibition archive and provide an additional level of engagement with the exhibition.

Allan Kaprow, poster for Apple Shrine, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.

Allan Kaprow, sketch of Sandwich Man for 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, Allan Kaprow Papers, © Research Library, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles.