Experiments in the Everyday: Allan Kaprow and Robert Watts—Events, Objects, Documents

More than 80 works by two artists who were at the forefront of the 1960s avant-garde will be featured in Experiments in the Everyday: Allan Kaprow and Robert Watts—Events, Objects, Documents, an exhibition that opens to the public on October 6 and remains on view through December 4.

The materials gathered for Experiments in the Everyday have rarely been seen by the American public and have never before been assembled in a direct critical dialog. The exhibition brings into focus the important contributions that Kaprow and Watts have made in the reshaping of advanced art-making practices in the second half of the twentieth century. Both artists were engaged with process, intermedia, game-based composition, interactivity, and an increasingly technological everyday life. Allan Kaprow (b. 1927) is perhaps best known as the progenitor of collage-like collaborative performances known as Happenings, which moved art out of the rarefied confines of museums and galleries and into everyday spaces. Robert Watts (1923-1988), key figure in the quasi-anarchic artists' collective known as Fluxus, was equally interested in breaking down the distinctions between art and the everyday, producing unconventional objects and projects that are both playful and provocative.

Among the earliest works by Kaprow in the exhibition are collages and assemblages of key importance, including the massive assemblage Rearrangeable Panels, which makes its first New York appearance in many years. The defining works that Kaprow began to develop in the late 1950s and early 1960s—18 Happenings in 6 Parts and Yard, for example—are documented in this exhibition by the artist's hand-lettered instructions and programs, vintage posters, photographs, and videotapes. In addition to the neon sculpture Ingres Signature and other artists' signatures in neon (Picasso and Marcel Duchamp, among them), Watts is represented by work spanning the 1960s and 1970s, including Table for Suicide Event and the transparent Feather Dress. Also included are numerous whimsical mail-order pieces and other Fluxus objects as well as a cabbage, a cantaloupe, and a slice of Swiss cheese from his series of chrome food sculptures.

This exhibition is in a sense a return to Columbia for both artists, who received master's degrees in art history from the university—Watts in 1951 and Kaprow in 1952. In 1953, both joined the faculty of Rutgers University in New Brunswick, NJ. From the mid-1950s on, Watts and Kaprow recognized, shared, and developed a set of practical and intellectual concerns that were to form and guide their aesthetic production and that of the next generation of American artists. Although both had begun their artistic careers as abstract expressionist painters, each, through active experimentation, moved away from the limitations of the static painted field. Working individually and occasionally together, Kaprow and Watts challenged the nominal status of the art object and art audience, as well as the artist as producer.

In conjunction with the exhibition, the gallery has published a fully illustrated catalogue with an essay by each of the curators. Benjamin Buchloh's essay is entitled "Robert Watts: Animate Objects—Inanimate Subjects." The essay by Judith Rodenbeck is "Foil: Allan Kaprow before Photography." A third essay, by Robert E. Haywood, who is on the art history faculty at the University of Notre Dame, is entitled "Critique of Instrumental Labor: Meyer Schapiro's and Allen Kaprow's Theory of Avant-Garde Art." In addition, there is an interview with Kaprow and Watts by the late painter Sidney Simon and an interview with Watts by the artist Larry Miller. The catalogue is distributed by the University of Washington Press, Seattle.

Concurrent with the exhibition at the Wallach Art Gallery, works by Robert Watts are on view in Arranged Marriage: Wallace Berman and Robert Watts, at the Roth Horowitz Gallery, 160A East 70th Street, New York City, from October 28 to December 10, 1999.

The project has been made possible, in part, through a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Generous support for the catalogue has come from the Dedalus Foundation.