"This Is Happening Now": A Night of Action Painting
Allan Kaprow coined the term "The Happenings" in his seminal essay "The Legacy of Jackson Pollock" (1956). He was referring to a mounting movement in the New York art scene that sought out fresh ways, beyond museum or gallery walls, to present work. Kaprow envisioned a new frontier where the boundaries between art and its immediate environment would be blurred; no frames, no exposition, no price tags.
In the era following McCarthy and the atomic bomb, there was a new drive to rid art of any covert message. Pollock embodied this shift not only through the immediacy of his technique but also in refuting the conventional notion that there were meanings beyond the obvious or beyond the common scope. The Happenings of the early 1960s forged this into an ideology taking a moral stand that prized incident over curation, that valued improvisation over script, in part by dissolving the 4th wall which traditionally cordoned the viewer from the work. These interdisciplinary, one-time events garnered worldwide attention due to the participation of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Claus Oldenburg, Jim Dine, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Yoko Ono and, later, Ushio Shinohara, who was featured in the documentary "Cutie and The Boxer."
Lisa Mendelsund, a native New Yorker, was raised by an art historian/mother and sculptor/father who loved this époque in American Art. For the past decade, she has resided in Brattleboro, an advocate for local artists, writing about their work and curating pop-up shows. She feels that The Happenings were the proto-"Pop-Up," a format that has regained some velocity in past years as artists increasingly find themselves marginalized by the trend toward major art fairs, and as smaller venues struggle for relevancy in a media culture dominated by the Internet. Mendelsund feels the same urgency that spawned The Happenings of her predecessors: "If we don't get up and out to see work directly, then the galleries will fold, and what we will be bequeathed is a stillborn art, entirely grafted to the tastes of the consumer elite. We will see repetition and not innovation. We will see glamour and not substance."
On June 11, at 118 Elliot St. in Brattleboro, Mendelsund is championing her cause in the second in a series of pop-up shows, the first of which was the widely attended and critically praised "Big Stitches, Rough Cuts, Nothing Nice, That's How the Paint Goes On," an exhibit of work by 14 female artists which she curated with Collin Leech. "This is Happening Now" will commence at 6:00 p.m. on the 11th, when the action painters Taj Campman, Tim Fite, and Hunter Deerfield-Shaw will begin working on opposing walls. Their approach will be in line with the physical intensity of The Happenings.
Smocks will be available should viewers choose to become primary participants. When the large murals are complete, they will remain up for public viewing only until the following afternoon. The one concession from The Happenings is that ancillary work by the painters will also be on view so attendees can see range, repertoire, and departure. Attendance is free.
Copyright 2016, Gallery Walk, Brattleboro, Vermont