A happening is a type of performance, event, or situation art, most commonly used in performance art. Allan Kaprow used the phrase in the 1950s to designate a variety of art-related activities. The character of Happenings was influenced by Italian Futurist performance, which challenged the concept of “proscenium architecture,” where “performers” might be moving lights, machines, and the public, and where simultaneity and noise-music were established.

Introduction to the Movement

The leading individuals were concerned with bridging the gap between life and art. In most situations, occurrences happened in the environment or as gallery installations. The audience’s participation was critical because the show relied on several aspects such as light, sound, and slide projections. The public’s participation in the work’s development added an element of chance.

As a result, each time a work was performed or displayed was unique. It was impossible to repeat the identical activity, and as a result, the occurrences served to develop a new concept of the temporality of an artwork. This time, with its occurrences, also fueled the debate over the “death” of painting. His thoughts centred on the awareness and development of art that made use of ordinary life and items. In contrast to Abstract Expressionism‘s technical aesthetics, Kaprow stressed the value of the artist’s activity and the process of creation above the final piece.

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Argentine artist Marta Minujín in a 1965 happening, Reading the news, in which she got into the Río de La Plata wrapped in newspapers _©Marta-minujin.com
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Argentine artist Marta Minujín in a 1965 happening, Reading the news, in which she got into the Río de La Plata wrapped in newspapers_©Marta-minujin.com

The challenge to the timeline of an art item, the happenings brought about significant temporal advances. The events that comprised the occurring could not be displayed in the usual sense since they were a temporal experience. Photographs and narratives were the only things that survived. As a result, occurrences played with the fundamental concept of art, creating a new category.

Nature of Happenings

Happenings stress the organic relationship between art and its surroundings. Kaprow agrees with this “Happenings allow us to set aside our appropriate manners for a minute and immerse ourselves completely in the true essence of art and life. It is a hard and abrupt deed in which one frequently feels “dirty,” and dirt, as we may begin to know, is also organic and fruitful, and everything, including the guests, may grow a bit into such circumstances.”

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Al Hansen – Happening_©huffingtonpost.com

Happenings were temporarily adopted by several American Pop artists, including Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and Red Grooms. Kaprow, Dick Higgins, and Al Hansen—all students in John Cage’s composition class at the New School for Social Research in New York City performed Happenings and were affiliated with Fluxus, as did other artists such as Wolf Vostell and Carolee Schneemann.

Happenings might be large-scale and detailed or personal, depending on the artist’s sensibilities. They would also occur in a variety of locations. Because they could be performed anywhere, they were occasionally produced within a gallery, but also on the streets, at a theatre, on fields, and even in a cave. For certain occurrences, everyone in the room was involved in the creation of the art, and even the form of the art was determined by audience participation since they were a significant component in where the artists’ improvisation leads.

Rise of the Movement

The most notable instances of this crucial art era are happenings from the late 1950s and 1960s, notably in the United States. A couple of the instances are shown below.

Allan Kaprow – Yard 1961

Allan Kaprow was a forerunner in formulating the notions of performance art and a key theorist of the concept of “happening.” Yard was conceived as a reaction to Jackson Pollock’s “drip” paintings. The installation consisted of a random dispersion and piling of tires on the floor, with users or participants asked to climb over them.

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Allan Kaprow – Yard, 1961_©valo85.wordpress.com

Robert Watts – Stamp Vendor, 1961

Stamp Vendor by Robert Watts might be described as a “strange” happening because the piece’s final product is an artefact. This happening includes stamps designed by the artist and placed inside of genuine stamp dispensers obtained from the United States Postal Service. The stamp dispensers were later placed in an exhibition room, where visitors could buy stamps by inserting pennies through the coin slots. This was a one-of-a-kind and rare happening since the audience interacted with items rather than the artist.

Robert Watts – Safe Post, K.u.K. Feldpost, Jockpost. 1962_©2012 Estate of Robert Watts (via moma.org)

Fall Out 

Subsequently, happenings had no written rules, simply hazy principles that the performers followed depending on the items around them. Happenings that allow a chance to enter, unlike other types of art, are ever-changing. There is no space for failure when chance defines the course the performance will take. Nonetheless, they all had a desire to work in the much-discussed gap between art and life. After the Yam Festival in 1963, happenings began to fade as other art philosophies took precedence. 

Happenings and its original concepts about the time-space connection continued to affect the  twentieth-century art, influencing conceptual art, performance art, body art, and feminist art. However, we must recognize that the most significant legacy that happenings have left us with is the realm of performance art. The actual essence of happenings, which stressed connection and bodily experience, is now more visible in music festivals and other comparable events than in contemporary art.


- A young architect and a firm believer in the potential of architecture, sustainability, research, and design thinking to significantly improve society and have a positive influence on the environment. A highly efficient and enthusiastic individual who is inspired by the meaning of architecture and its innovative effectiveness to translate thinking approaches into the built environment.

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