Artist and art theorist, in his intense career Allan Kaprow explored different types of artistic expression, though his most important contributions are bound up with environments and happenings, of which he is considered one of the theoreticians and founders. Happenings and environments were environmental works requiring the active participation of the public, coeval with the experiments conducted by Fluxus in Europe and the Gutai Group in Japan. “The term ‘happening’,” Kaprow wrote in 1962, “refers to an art form related to theater, in that it is performed in a given time and space. Its structure and its content are a logical extension to environments.” In 1957-58 Kaprow began to create his first environments involving the public. This increasing integration between spaces, materials, time and people eventually led him to undertake more experimental pieces and the development of his happenings in their final form. The term “happening” entered current usage in October 1959, when Kaprow put it on the invitation card to 18 Happenings in 6 Parts at the Reuben Gallery in New York. His environments, on the other hand, are spaces devised in which the public is called on to intervene directly on the materials, and for this reason they are not to be considered simple installations, because they undergo continuous development. In this way his environments become spaces in which to act and which can be experienced and are in fact activated by the presence and action of public.
In both happenings and environments, the viewers are simultaneously presented with new types of expressive codes, being stimulated to express both a physical and psychological reaction to the event. By their presence the participants move in the environment and are fused with it. Art becomes action, a behavioral practice that determines an increasingly stringent relationship, at the same time broaching a new bond between art and the public. From this moment the viewers are given the opportunity to introduce changes into the work, and ultimately to participate in its creation. Kaprow radically refounded the conception of art itself, since experience is no longer separated from life, just as the artist is no longer separated from the viewer: art and artist become a vehicle for alternative social and cultural values. Then the fact that the happening has a duration and takes place in time introduces this new element as an integral part of the work, which at the end of the action remains in the memory or documentation as lived time.
Kaprow created happenings and environments in the principal American and European institutions. He participated in major international events such as the Venice Biennale (1993) and Documenta (1977, 1987). His environments include: Beauty Parlor (1957/58), Apple Shrine (1960), Stockroom (1960), Yard (1961), Words (1962), Push and Pull (1963), Eat (1963). Yard, presented in the Madre’s main court in the context of Per_forming a collection after its presentation in Naples in the spaces of Castel Sant’Elmo in 2003, was produced for the first time in 1961 in New York, at the Martha Jackson Gallery, where Kaprow filled the courtyard behind the gallery with hundreds of used tires. The space thus transformed recalled a junkyard rather than an art gallery, bewildering the visitors, who were invited to walk, sit and lie down on the piles of tires, move them at will and then put them back in place. Yard soon became a crucial work in Kaprow’s oeuvre by its desecrating effect and its subversion of the exhibition space. With this expanse of tires, Kaprow suggested the artist’s capacity to confuse planes and to play not only with art but life itself.
“The public is invited to enter Yard (version no. 9) to walk on the tires and rearrange them at will. Please feel free to throw tires at the constructions to knock them down. Following this, please feel free to make new towers and walls. This way, Yard will always change” (A. Kaprow, 2003).