RELATED TERMS: Installation; Environments; Avants-garde movements

Happenings, the forerunners of performance art, emerged from the theatrical elements of dada and surrealism. American artist Allan Kaprow first used the term in his 1959 work ‘18 Happenings in 6 Parts’ which took place over six days from 4–10 October 1959 at the Reuben Gallery, New York.

Happenings generally took place in an environment or installation created within a gallery, using light, sound, slide projections and an element of spectator participation. They proliferated through the 1960s but gave way to performance art in which the focus was increasingly on the actions of the artist.

Apart from Kaprow, notable exponents of happenings include Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Red Grooms and Robert Whitman.


Kaprow, A. (2014) ‘Assemblages, environments and happenings’, in Brayshaw, T. and Witts, N. (eds) The Twentieth-Century Performance Reader. 3rd edn. London, UK: Routledge, pp. 277–287.

Kirby, Michael, ed, (1965) Happenings. New York: Dutton.

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