On Monday, I went to the Block Museum at Northwestern University to see Art Theory and Practice students recreate Fluids, one of Allan Kaprow’s Happenings. The students built two closed ice structures – “The walls are unbroken. They are left to melt” – instead of Kaprow’s one, as a way of skirting his sticky assertion that to recreate a Happening is akin to turning it into staged theater, but were so enthusiastic about being involved in a historical event (“It’s the first time this piece has been recreated in the Midwest!”) that I don’t think they would have minded following his initial instructions to a T.
Their enthusiasm, and the fact this recreation was happening at all, started me thinking about our impulse to recreate the works that have come before us. Part of it is a way of inserting ourselves in this complex and challenging art history; a way of asserting to others that we get what this is all about. Part of it, especially with such formally minimal work such as this, is the desire to be surrounded by and participate in such crystalline elegance – the distillation of an artistic vision that could encompass literally anything to this ephemeral and glittering piece is quieting. We get the creative act without the creative risks.
Finally though, I think there is an impulse in formally simple, conceptually antagonistic art like this that begs to be pushed farther than the artist’s initial design. I confess to having a list of art pieces I would like to recreate in my home: Smithson’s Mirror Stratum and something great by Lawrence Weiner among others, and I think it is in a large part because by recreating their works on my scale and in my space, I am able to push their ideas even farther in the direction they were already going. I am able to take their art away from them entirely. All three of the works discussed here were efforts on the part of the artists to communicate more directly to more people about more themes as a way of breaking up artistic and institutional authority, and it almost makes sense that I want to buy sequentially smaller mirrors and stack them in a corner, finally taking Smithson out of the equation entirely. Talk about a non-site.
These impulses ultimately result in other Happenings. As a counterpoint to Kaprow’s suggestion for a future Happening, “Drive 20 rental cars in different directions until they run out of gas”, we can imagine “Allow 25 undergrad students to recreate ephemeral art pieces from 1967”. “Recreate 5 Conceptual Art works in your home and continue your daily life around them”. The impulse to copy already extant works of art in not a new one but in this case I think it is a logical step, aligned particularly well with the artist’s initial reactionary intentions.