Art &Technology
- Happening - Josef Beuys

"Happening has often been referred to as spontaneous, plotless theatrical events. Such events were not confined to a particular environment and could take the form of music, visual art or theatre. Evolving in New York in the late 1950s, they became popular phenomena in the 1960s and 1970s, under the influence of John Cage and his theories of the importance of chance in artistic creation. Other artists who contributed to the development of the Happening include Claes Oldenburg, Robert Rauschenberg, and Roy Lichtenstein. In Japan the Gutai Group and in Europe the Fluxus Group developed the original American ideas. To these groups the Happening represented chiefly an opportunity to transform a normal event into an extraordinary occurrence, through the use of everyday objects and materials taken out of context. Although, by definition, the Happening was an event unconstrained by the formality of the institution or the gallery, in many instances artists used such venues in order to stage Happenings which outraged or shocked the audience and demanded a degree of participation (e.g. the Happenings of Joseph Beuys)."

Bloomsbury Guide to Art, © Bloomsbury 1996

Josef Beuys: I like America and America likes me. 1974


In the case of Beuys one could argue whether Bloomsbury's definition of happenings being spontaneous events makes much sense. Beuys planned his happenings very carefully and it seems to make more sense to say that many happenings synthesized both planned and improvised theatrical activity. In Beuys' case the anlytical and conceptional part might have been stronger than the spontaneous one, in other artists' cases the spontaneity was the essential ingredient. One thing they had in common though - and which made them different from conventional theatre - was their lack of a narrative.