Allan Kaprow’s Formalism: Composing Pedagogy and Mixed Media in the Postwar American University


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art


Department of Art History and Department of Cinema and Media Studies


This dissertation examines the early work of Allan Kaprow, an artist well known for inventing the so-called happening in the late 1950s. This mixed media, performance-based form is commonly understood to initiate and symbolize a paradigm shift in American art: from modernist formalism to postmodernism, and from aesthetic contemplation to active viewer participation. By contrast, this project will resituate the happening in its original context of production: the universities and art schools where Kaprow studied and then taught mainly art history for the duration of his career. Doing so will allow the project to recast viewer participation as a structured pedagogical activity and to re-conceptualize the happening as an extension of formalism.