Happenings were theatrical events created by artists in the late 1950s and early 1960s
Introduction to happenings
Happenings were the forerunners of performance art and in turn emerged from the theatrical elements of dada and surrealism. The name was first used by the American artist Allan Kaprow in the title of his 1959 work 18 Happenings in 6 Parts which took place on six days, 4–10 October 1959 at the Reuben Gallery, New York.
Happenings typically took place in an environment or installation created within the gallery and involved light, sound, slide projections and an element of spectator participation. They proliferated through the 1960s but gave way to performance art in which the focus was increasingly on the actions of the artist. A detailed account of early happenings can be found in Michael Kirby’s 1965 book, Happenings.
Other notable creators of happenings were Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Red Grooms and Robert Whitman. Jim Dine’s 1960 suite of prints The Crash relates to the drawings that were props for his 1960 happening, The Car Crash.
Performance Art 101: The Happening, Allan Kaprow
This blog post runs through how happenings began and its influence over the art world.