PRINT Summer 2006

Paul McCarthy

IF YOU TALKED TO ALLAN, he would say he wasn’t an artist. But he still maintained a kind of presence in the art world. I once did a gallery show in the early ’90s and asked him to contribute. After a while he came back and said, “Yeah, I want to do something. Could you ask the dealer to take a garden hose and water the sidewalk every day before the gallery opens?” The piece essentially went unnoticed. It wasn’t announced; there were no photographs or indication by the gallery that anything had happened. And yet it was a kind of participation.

A couple of years ago, when a number of museums approached Allan, I thought it was fucked up that he was asked to redo classic works like Yard; he was being treated like history. I didn’t realize he’d been “reinventing” his earlier works for quite a while, and that they were radically altered for a new period. In fact, for his retrospective next fall in Munich, he gave the curators permission to reinvent his work: Toward the end of his life, he had created around twenty boxes, each one containing documentation of a single work and a statement indicating that the box could be used to reinvent his piece. It was like a music score. But Allan never specified to the curators who should look through the box and do the reinventing; and he never said the work should look the same. He leaves an open door. Something similar happened last year in Zurich and Basel, where Words, Fluids, and Sawdust were reinvented, and he asked his gallery’s technicians to look at the documentation. For Words, they were supposed to come up with four or five different ways to reinvent the piece, and he would choose one of them; he chose one using tape recorders, but he didn’t specify what to do with them.

I once did an action in the mid-’60s, running down a hill, but then falling because it was so steep. I was in control, and then lost control. Thinking about Kaprow, I made the connection that Yes, I could think of this as a piece of language, or as art. By its very nature, his work was about not being confined by the need to make an object and then put it in a cubicle. This opens up possibilities. Out beyond the cubicle is an endless range.

Allan once said to me that he wasn’t sure he understood why a gallery would be interested in him: The work was impermanent; it was contextual; its very basis was the doubt of art. That’s an interesting statement, but those three things don’t add up to something that doesn’t last, or which can’t be considered. Think of the way he’s allowing the work to continue: If someone reinvents these pieces, which part of it isn’t Allan Kaprow? The work is not a happening by Allan in any formal or aesthetic way, but as a conceptual activity, it is a Kaprow piece. I’m often interested in revisiting and remaking my own work, going backward and forward at once. But as a final thing to have done, Allan’s reinvention and continuation of his work is radical.

as told to Tim Griffin