Judith F. Rodenbeck’s Radical Prototypes

Allan Kaprow, A Spring Happening, 1961. Happening, Reuben Gallery, New York, 1961. Photo: Robert McElroy/VAGA.

Radical Prototypes: Allan Kaprow and the Invention of Happenings, By Judith F. Rodenbeck. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2011. 312 pages. $35.

FEW COULD QUIBBLE with Allan Kaprow’s laconic definition of Happenings in 1966, when he spoke of them simply as “collage[s] of events in certain spans of time and in certain spaces.” But at the time, the question of what a Happening actually was—eight years after the term had been coined by Kaprow in his groundbreaking essay “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock”—had become something of an obsession. In 1965, Al Hansen had spoken of the “confusion about the very definition of Happenings” as one of the strengths of this “rather unique art form”; that same year, a special issue of the Tulane Drama Review—one of the key publications covering the expansion of theater and its hybridization with other art forms—was dedicated to parsing

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