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U.S. and Europe, 1959

The term Happening was coined by New York artist Allan Kaprow in 1959 as a name for the antinarrative theatrical pieces that he and such artists as Jim Dine, Red Grooms, Dick Higgins, Claes Oldenburg, and Robert Whitman staged in studios, galleries, and offbeat locations, usually with direct audience involvement. These multimedia Performance events radically altered the conventional role of audience members, who, in the tradition of Antonin Artaud’s Theater of Cruelty, were assaulted by an array of auditory, visual, and physical phenomena. Composed out of the absurdities and banalities of everyday life and filtered through the gestural vocabulary of Abstract Expressionism, these spectacles incorporated junk materials, found and manipulated objects, and live or electronic music, sometimes in elaborate constructed environments intended to break down the boundaries between art and life. They explored the objectification of mundane movements and play-related activities, as well as the depersonalization of their participants.

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