New York

Allan Kaprow

John Gibson Gallery

Allan Kaprow’s Days Off is a calendar of Happenings. Oddly, where LeWitt’s gallery work is crucial and published work at best superfluous, Kaprow’s case is just the opposite. The published work makes his John Gibson show redundant.

Days Off is like a movie of stills. Kaprow’s fine eye and sense of pace allow him to be the director of ten consecutive “still-shorts,” some hilarious, some disquieting. In this hybrid. medium, clearly two gifts count—skill at the individual isolated image, and skill at that image in time, as one of a series, as a moment. Kaprow has both.

His flair—or weakness, depending on one’s point of view—for the collective prank should not prevent us from enjoying Kaprow’s eye. Throughout the calendar, the image remains important. True, the images must be set in a verbal grid, but that grid can be kept to a minimum, something Kaprow does well. Right at the start of Runner, the first Happening, the second and third pages, totalling six photos, are wordless. In Pose six consecutive pages are virtually wordless, in Travelog nearly four. Though there is a verbal explanation at the beginning, when it mentions first photos and then words, we believe that order of importance. The photos are not illustrations in the old sense of mere “renderings” of text. Aptly, the calendar’s cover, with its huge paper ball, is as striking visually as it is verbally.

Kaprow’s eye is responsible for extraordinary images. In Record II he silvers parts of a stack of colossal rocks with tinfoil. Absurdity aside, purely formally the contrast between the glistening ribbons and the brute rocks is remarkable. As is the end of Record II: after more than twenty pages of strictly rectangular photos, each a squared-off, isolated news-view, suddenly photos are scattered pell-mell down the page, overlapping left and right and running right to the page’s edge. The effect is visual anarchy. Where the eye had been used to a single, normal horizon per image, now suddenly in this grand image it sees seven, many tilted; the result is a touch of spatial vertigo. In addition to this, all the scattered photos, since seen earlier in the course of the Happening, represent moments of time once in sequence but now chucked into simultaneity like a throw of jacks; the result is a touch of temporal vertigo too. Kaprow’s eye is fine indeed.

Shape, a Happening that involves placing objects, including bodies, on the ground and spray-painting their silhouettes, begins as fun and games. A girl is shown enjoying spraying her own hand. Once the idea is grasped visually and a certain empathy established by the fun, Kaprow switches his image toward the disquieting. A man lies on the ground with arm outstretched. The negative image is dark, the silhouetting paint white, giving the effect of a shadow groping its way across the floor. Later two floor effigies fight, still later two dance. Finally a dark figure bathed in a brilliant halo stands with feet apart and arms wide like some cheap but thrilling Lucifer.

Soon film and still-photography may move so close that films may freeze for longer than the split-second they often do now. They may freeze for say a half-minute or more, producing images to be experienced not just as interruption but as stillness, the director moving toward the artist. Days Off describes a similar movement from the other side. It shows an artist, much to his credit, moving toward being a director.

Jean-Louis Bourge