Allan Kaprow (1927 - 2006 )

Allan Kaprow was born in 1927 in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and raised in Arizona. He attended New York University, where he studied philosophy. Later, he attended Columbia University in New York, where he studied art history and studio art. In 1947, he enrolled in Hans Hoffman's painting school, where he developed his skills in abstract expressionist painting.

In 1952, Kaprow co-founded the Hansa Gallery in New York with a number of his fellow students from Hoffman's painting school. The gallery, originally located in Greenwich Village on East 10th Street, was named after their teacher, Hans Hoffman. Kaprow exhibited numerous works at the Hansa Gallery, which later closed in 1959.

Kaprow taught art history at Rutgers University from 1953 to 1961. During that time he was known as part of the "Rutgers Group." This group consisted of Robert Watts and Roy Lichtenstein (fellow faculty), Lucas Samaras and Robert Whitman (former students of Kaprow's), George Segal, an artist and the owner of a farm near Rutgers, and George Brecht, an artist as well as a scientist employed nearby at Johnson and Johnson.

Kaprow taught at Rutgers University in New Jersey from 1953 to 1961, at SUNY Stony Brook in New York from 1961 to 1968, at the California Institute of the Arts from 1969 to 1974, and at UC San Diego in California from 1974 to 1993.

Kaprow's most important influences came from the works of the abstract expressionist painter Jackson Pollock and John Cage, an avant-garde composer with whom Kaprow had studied musical composition at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. These two artists helped to move Kaprow into the area of "happenings," a form of non-verbal, theatrical art production that helped to create a sense of community by encouraging people to participate in the art form rather than simply be viewers.

(Amy L. Sullivan, 2003)

Tree, A Yam Festival, 1964.

Photograph of Allan Kaprow in 1964.

The happening "Yam, A Tree Festival" began at noon on Saturday, May 11, 1963, at George Segal's farm in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The happening was organized by Kaprow, Robert Watts, and George Brecht, and sponsored by the Smolin Gallery. The Yam Festival included numerous performances including Yam Day - an epic omnibus performance - as well as approximately 140 works by 37 artists at the Hardware Poets Playhouse. Along with the happening itself, which ended sometime on Sunday, May 12th, there was also a yam hat sale at the Smolin Gallery and a picnic with various events at Segal's farm on May 19th. Many critics likened Kaprow's Yam Day at Segal's farm to a family picnic.

Kaprow's friend George Segal, the sculptor, described the events of the day in these words: "We had a day of Happenings here [on my farm]. I invited Allan and a list of our friends who were equally producing happenings, so that there were different people doing their own things. . . . Allan wanted to rent a line of bulldozers, and the bulldozers would have these big fronts on them, and they would be advancing against an army of human beings, armed with sticks, with twigs from branches, against these bulldozers. And I vetoed the bulldozer idea, because I know how tricky they are to drive, and dangerous. And if I had one inexperienced driver, and a fellow's foot slipped, we'd have dead people on the ground. So I persuaded Allan to forget the bulldozers and switch to cars. OK. It was an army of cars advancing against this army of people armed with tree branches. I won't discuss the interpretation of machine power v. people. Forget that. And then . . . there was a famous poet who was playing the flute. And this was supposed to be the musical accompaniment to this warfare. So, it was Allan's Happening."(1)

Kaprow was the creator of numerous art events during the sixties and later. His work helped to shape the innovative art form that we now call a "happening." Kaprow was a professor emeritus with the Visual Arts Department at the University of California at San Diego until his death in 2006. (ALS)

(1) Interview on (see link below).

Additional References:

Sally Banes, Greenwich Village 1963: Avant-Garde Performance and the Effervescent Body (Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1993).

Joan Marter, ed., Off Limits: Rutgers University and the Avant-Garde, 1957-1963 (New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 1999). (see link below).

About the Authors | Essential Bibliography | NJ Museums & Collections | Acknowledgments