July 2008, Allan Kaprow: Art as Life

 Allan Kaprow, Women licking jam off of a car,
 Research Library, The Getty Research Institute,
 Los Angeles, CA (980063)
 © Sol Goldberg
 Courtesy MOCA, LA

Geffen Contemporary at MOCA
Allan Kaprow : Art as Life
Through June 30th

Kaprow invigorated the art scene of the 1950s and 60s with his (then) unique blend of performance and installation. Just as the Pop Art of the same era validated mass culture and the aesthetics of advertising, Kaprow happenings elevated the mundane rituals of everyday life to the status of art. (His 1976 piece Maneuvers gives instruction on how to block someone’s way in a door frame and subsequently apologize to them) At best, (I am borrowing the words of the late Artforum editor Ingrid Sischy in an accompanying video to the exhibition) Kaprow’s work “creates a space for questions” and “proposes ways for us to participate in our culture.” How the work has aged is another story.

Kaprow famously resisted the museum. While the MOCA acknowledged this sentiment (the exhibition was mounted with the support of the late artist) and recreated many (number) of his happenings outside of the confines of museum walls, Art as Life is intensely archival. Table upon glass topped archival table showed clippings of event fliers and the walls are filled with paintings and posters. Circles, an installation of typewriters and Xeroxes of records that spectator/participants were invited to type on, gave a nod to the participatory impulse in the exhibition space. Despite numerous interactive installations, the participatory experience was repeatedly undermined. Museum goers were gently chided via signs on Circles to keep typewriter fun to a designated amount of time. Another installation, a quasi sitting room with a selection of videos and a paper shredder enclosed in a chain link fence, thwarted my friend and I when we attempted to watch the video of our choosing, a naughty looking religious school narrative. (Much to our chagrin, it turned out that the four videos to select from were actually edited together so all of the VHS cassettes were identical.)


 Allan Kaprow
 poster for Environments, Situations, Spaces
 Research Library, The Getty Research Institute,
 Los Angeles, CA (980063)
 Courtesy MOCA, LA


 Allan Kaprow
 entrance to Push and Pull
 Research Library, The Getty Research Institute,
 Los Angeles, CA (980063)
 Photographer unknown
 Courtesy MOCA, LA 

An Allan Kaprow happening is like a wedding. Lists are made, instructions are given, and the folks involved in the action comprise the event. In Kaprow’s case, the event is a work of art. At the end of the day, weddings where people follow instructions, posing for canned photos, sit and stand on cue, and make entrances when they are supposed to are stolid, formulaic affairs. It can be difficult to shake off socially ascribed roles. Likewise, it’s not much fun to move furniture around or type on a typewriter while a security guard eyes you with boredom (so easy to construe as dubiousness).

Art as Life
left me with a question common to work of its ilk: how do we negotiate a balance between the legacy of ephemeral art and the impulse to preserve culture?


Jesi Khadivi is a writer and curator living in Los Angeles. She writes for Venus Zine and the Brooklyn Rail among other publications. She recently completed research on the definitive biography of Gram Parsons and is currently working on her first book.  gramparsonsinterviews@gmail.com

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