How to Make a Happening

Allan Kaprow

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“How to Make a Happening” is a lecture by Allan Kaprow from the mid-1960s. Originally conceived for publication as an LP, the text is accordingly arranged in two parts. Kaprow first lays out eleven rules for the Happening, which is framed as a kind of open-ended performance whose goal is a decisive break from all established cultural forms—a break to be positively embodied by the Happening itself—before going on to describe several Happenings at length, by way of example. “The point is to make something new,” says Kaprow, “something that doesn’t even remotely remind you of culture.” Yet the lecture is devoid of bombast and of the overbearing sense of historical grandeur so characteristic of statements of similarly radical ambitions. Its sense of getting down to the nitty-gritty, its often almost casual tone and tongue-in-cheek humor, oddly fulfill its explicit aspirations towards singularity, making it a truly unique document.

Kaprow’s recording of the lecture was published as an LP by Mass Art in 1966, but the untimely demise of that company, which went bankrupt shortly thereafter, promptly hobbled the release, thus consigning How to Make a Happening almost immediately to a place in limbo. In 1968 it was given some further distribution via Something Else Press, which effectively re-released the original pressing as a limited “special edition,” with the covers laminated and silkscreened by Alison Knowles. It was with Primary Information’s reissue in 2008 that this unique and historically important document was made widely available for the first time.