Among the other performers, all of whom are part of my collective memory of the history of performance art, was Simone Forti, an artist deeply involved in the revolution of modern dance that took place around the legendary Judson Studios. At one point, I saw Forti moving on all fours through part of the room on pieces of wood. I could not help but think of her performances of animal movements and her Dance Reports, one of which reads:

So go I over here and put my self over here and then I put my self over there, A rock here over there and by it another and another, A rock there and over there here a rock, And over there a rock and next to it and others and there and there and there...4

The relevant metaphor here is probably not bacteria, but rather Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome, where the historical, personal, sensory and eccentric associations a participant might have break up and recombine in all sorts of lively ways. The (re)enactments of Happenings work for me as long as they occur in public spaces that confer the potential for this kind of surprising new life. They don’t work inside the deadening space of a museum retrospective, and the MOCA presentation of Allan Kaprow: Art as Life did nothing to change my mind. Organized by the Haus der Kunst, München, in cooperation with the Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, this traveling show was realized at the Geffen Contemporary in one long gallery. Along one wall hung Kaprow’s early paintings and collages; along the opposite wall were fifteen tables displaying documents with many of his original scores and notes in vitrines. There were several overhead projectors aimed at the wall with a shuffle pack of transparencies, mostly documentation of the original Happenings—a weak nod toward both audience participation and school lectures. In the center, occupying most of the space of the gallery, several artists who had worked with or were affiliated with Kaprow, such as John Baldessari and Skylar Haskard, Allen Ruppersberg, Barbara T. Smith, Paul McCarthy, and Suzanne Lacy with Peter Kirby and Michael Rotundi invented or reinvented four interactive Kaprow Environments. These pieces felt like crowd-pleasers, a sop to a kind of anxiety that I am certain was neither the intention of the artists nor the curators. It was as if presenting the documentation of the Happenings and Environments with the early paintings and collages was insufficiently sexy, tactile or immediate. The inclusion of these remade Environments, dominating the space and literally pushing Kaprow’s actual works to the perimeters of the exhibition, felt to me like a plea: “Dear Audience, Please experience a Happening now.” What worked so well with the Happenings going on around the city is exactly what failed here. I would not mind these pieces if they could be given the life of a contemporary effort, but not inside the cocoon of the museum, where they can only be homages to something that happened long ago and far away.

The contradiction and the question here lie within the institution itself: can a Happening be institutionalized if it was never intended to be institutionalized? At the exhibition, I observed that the audience and guards were involved in a very complicated dance. In the confused and confusing space were interactive Kaprow Environments, that invited participation, Kaprow paintings that you should not touch, and videos that you should sit and respectfully watch. Could the guards at MOC A chasing the audience, the audience chasing the guards, the instructions to “touch,” “not to touch,” “to participate,” and “to anticipate” be an extension of reinventing Kaprow Happenings?

In thinking about the current wave of reenactments, I am interested in Kaprow’s work from the 1990s—a period in which he appropriated his own artwork. He reimagined seven Environments, each of which, when presented by the commissioning Fondazione Mudima in Milan, was accompanied by a mural-size photograph of its original occurrence. Jeff Kelley describes the recreations this way: “Kaprow seemed to acknowledge the profound global and cultural changes of the previous three decades…by smoothing out his materials and consolidating his metaphors. …For instance, …bohemian street junk was replaced by synthetic material and standardized easily consumable units….”5 Kelley says of Yard (1961/1991), “In Milan, the famous photograph of the youthful Kaprow throwing a tire in the sculpture garden of the Martha Jackson Gallery drew a striking contrast with its 1991 version, in which a silly, tireless Fiat…was surrounded not by a stormy black sea of used American rubber, but by a hot-pink wall with racks of smaller new Italian tires organized in neat, bureaucratic rows.”6 In Milan, visitors were invited to change the tires, not throw them around. Kelley reads this as a metaphor for the body’s aging process, which is one interpretation particularly available to Kelley, a friend, former student and long time biographer of Kaprow.7 However, considerably less romantic interpretations are possible here as well, for example relating to labor, efficiency, organization, and complicated technology. Has Kaprow reenacted his own art history in this work or has he simply juxtaposed old thoughts with his current positions, thereby producing something new, or at the very least an evaluation of past versus present achievements?

Footnotes

  1. The Judson Dance Project 1980-1982, v. 5.
  2. Jeff Kelley, Childsplay: The Art of Allan Kaprow, (University of California Press: Berkeley, Los Angeles, London, 2004), 220.
  3. Ibid., 221.
  4. Ibid.