Friday, January 28, 2011

Chapter VIII - Happenings

 Fluxus was not the only group staging performance pieces during the late 1950s to early 1960s, there were also other types of performances going on which came to be known as Happenings.  Happenings emerged from the Rutgers University campus in New Jersey and included artists who would later be known as the ‘Rutgers Group’ such as Allan Kaprow, George Segal, Robert Watts and George Brecht.[1]  The first Happening was done by Kaprow at Rutgers University in 1958.[2]  Happenings differed slightly from Fluxus performances and generally were more complicated and scripted, like a theatrical work that involved the audience.  Artist Allan Kaprow is credited with coining the term Happening.[3]   There were also performances and installation pieces that involved performance art called "events" or "situations" that today are often considered interchangeable with Happenings. 
There was a cross-over effect with Fluxus and Happenings artists, they often participated in the same venues and they were certainly aware of each other.  Maciunas’ Flux-Mass of 1970, which will be discussed later, took place at Voorhees Chapel on the Rutgers campus and Allan Kaprow and George Brecht flowed in between both movements.  It is therefore difficult to definitively categorize them as two absolutely separate entities. 
Happenings and Fluxus continued into the later sixties and seventies.  Performance art became more accepted and even the preferred form of art for the time.  The art world paralleled the changing American society and became more rebellious and insistent upon change.  The civil rights movement, feminists and the counterculture youth movement became more radical as the sixties went on and America headed into the Vietnam War and enforced the involuntary draft.  The harder the government tried to crush the youth movement the stronger the counter movements fought back and even the chaplain of Yale University, William Sloane Coffin, encouraged students to dodge the draft.[4]  Art historians and critics followed slightly behind the discourse and by the seventies were caught up in a rebellion of their own against formalism and for a more sociological context in art criticism.  It was against this background that there existed Fluxus, Happenings and Ray Johnson.

1 Joan Marter, Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957-1963, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1999), 1.
2 Ibid., 8.
3 Geoffrey Hendricks, Critical Mass: Happenings, Fluxus, Performance, Intermedia and Rutgers University 1958-1972, (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2003), i.
 4 Judith G. Coffin, Robert C. Stacey, Robert E. Lerner, Standish Meacham, Western Civilizations: Their History and Their Culture, (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2002) 1091.

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