Postmodernist Performance Art.

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For an guide to the aesthetic and
classification issues concerning
fine/decorative/applied arts, see:
Art Definition, Meaning.



Happening in Copenhagen 2008.
Flash Mob stage the aftermath of
a violent event.
A flash mob (the term was first
coined in 2003) is a group of
people who assemble all of a sudden
in a public place, briefly perform a
seemingly pointless act (of satire,
artistic expression or entertainment),
then disperse. A Flash mob stunt is
invariably Internet-launched, being
arranged via telecommunications,
social media, or websites. The first
flash mobs appeared in Manhattan
in 2003, by Bill Wasik, an editor of
Harper's Magazine. Flash Mobs
are not associated with political
protests, commercials, or publicity
stunts involving paid professionals.

A Mass Nude Happening by Spencer
Tunick. For decades Spencer Tunick
has been photographing mass nudes
in various locations. The above
photo shows naked volunteers in a
Bruges theatre.

Characteristics and History of Contemporary Performance Art


What is a Happening? Definition & Characteristics
Fluxus & Gutai Groups

What is a Happening? Definition & Characteristics

A Happening is a form of avant-garde art - a type of creative expression, closely associated with performance art, which itself has its roots in twentieth century theories of conceptual art, derived largely from demonstrations organized by exponents of Dada, such as Tristan Tzara (1896-1963). In practice, it is not easy to distinguish between Performance and Happenings, both being a form of carefully planned entertainment (albeit with elements of spontaneity) during which the artist performs (or manages) a theatrical artistic event. Something which is more easily witnessed than described in words! At any rate, a Happening is basically a spontaneous piece of Performance art which hovers between drama and visual art, and typically both invites and elicits a strong audience response. Given its Dadaist style of impermanence, it was initially conceived as a radical alternative to traditional principles of craftsmanship, and the 'permanent art object.' A detailed explanation of this new form of postmodernist art can be read in the book 'Happenings' (1965) by Michael Kirby. This type of artistic event was particularly associated with the New York art scene circa 1960, and is still staged in the best galleries of contemporary art around the world.

See: History of Art Timeline.

Definitions, forms, styles, genres,
periods, see: Types of Art.

For the latest events,
see: Art News Headlines.


The actual term 'happening' was first used in 1959 by the American artist Allan Kaprow (b.1927), whose later book 'Assemblage, Environments and Happenings' (1966) influenced a wide range of contemporary art events. Kaprow's first 'happening' comprised Admission Piece: 18 Happenings in 6 Parts, (Reuben Gallery, New York, 1959), which involved spectators moving objects in the gallery, so that all distinction between art and life would disappear. Action would spring from unplanned reaction to be art. The composer John Cage (1912–1992), creator of 4 minutes 33 seconds (the controversial, completely silent musical composition) and "the event" (a famous mixture of music, dance and other performances) (both 1952) - provided impetus and a model, while additional theoretical support came from Dada and Surrealist events, as well as Pop Art.

After 1959, other famous artists began presenting Happenings, sometimes in collaboration with Kaprow, and shows were staged in London, Paris, Amsterdam, Dusseldorf, Cologne and Berlin. Among postmodernist artists prominent in the movement were the Swiss kinetic artist Jean Tinguely (1925-1991), American painter Jim Dine (b.1935), the American Pop-Artist Roy Lichtenstein (1923-97), the Swedish-American sculptor Claes Oldenburg (b.1929), Robert Rauschenberg (b.1925), Joseph Beuys (1921-86), the Polish multi-media artist Tadeusz Kantor (1915-90) and the self-taught Swiss artist Ben Vautier (b.1935). Happenings multiplied through the 1960s but gave way in the early 1970s to Performance art in which greater emphasis was placed on the consciously dramatic actions of the artist. See also the Japanese installation and performance artist Yayoi Kusama (b.1929), best known for her Happenings involving phallic imagery decorated with polka dots.

Fluxus Movement & Gutai Group

In addition to Performance, one direct outgrowth of Happening art was the German-born Fluxus Movement (named after the Latin word for 'a flowing'), which was launched in 1962 by the Lithuanian born American theorist and art philosopher George Maciunas (1931-78). Its aim, like many avant-garde contemporary art movements, was to instigate an anti-art, anti-bourgeois program which combined several art forms but outside the world of commercial art. It was not unlike the earlier Dada movement, although Fluxus avoided the latter's political statements. The movement's ten year span of activity consisted mainly of street-based Happenings. Members of Fluxus included some American artists but it's main arena was Germany where Joseph Beuys and Wolf Vostell (b.1932) were involved for a time.

In Japan, Happenings as types of performance art, were exploited during the 1960s by the Gutai Group - the avant-garde art group founded by Jiro Yoshihara in Osaka in 1954.



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