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‘Happenings: New York, 1958-1963’ at the Pace Gallery

Patty Oldenburg, Lucas Samaras and Claes Oldenburg 1962.

On my recent trip to New York I went to the Pace Gallery with a friend of mine to see the “Happenings” Exhibit.  Having grown up in New York in the 50s and 60s and my family who were artists and writers, the chance to see that time through the eyes of history was compelling to me.  Since the Pace Gallery is a commercial Gallery and not a Museum, I didn’t know what to expect, but I did know that the Pace had represented all of the Artists in this exhibit.  The exhibit shows happenings in the East Village in the 1950s and 60s by artists that went on to change what we know as contemporary art; Claes Oldenburg, Jim Dine, Robert Whitman, Red Grooms, Allan Kaprow, Lucas Samaras, Patty Mucha and more.

Jim Dine in his clown outfit

The exhibit was a walk back through time with hundreds of photographs, costumes and artifacts from the original performances.  I was first struck by how much documentation remained of those events and why we haven’t seen them published.  The reason is that they have been in storage for years.  The photographs are by Robert R. McElroy a friend of Jim Dine’s who later went on to work for Newsweek. The photographs had been in storage until about 5 years ago when Milly Glimcher, director of special projects at Pace Gallery, gained access to them.

Some of the many happenings on exhibit were “Store Days II”, “The Smiling Workman”, “Sports”, “American Moon”, “The Burning Building”,  “18 Happenings in 6 Parts,”  and the historic “Car Crash” with Jim Dine.

“American Moon”

Knowing how cutting edge these Happenings were at the time and the impact they had in later years in the development of performance art, it was interesting at how sophomoric some of them look now.  The exhibit was a unique tribute to a very dynamic and important moment in the history of American Contemporary Art.  I hope the Pace Gallery makes this a traveling exhibition so that those outside of New York can witness those moments in Art history.

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