In 1959, the Judson Gallery was founded in the church’s basement at 239 Thompson Street, which displayed work by Pop and conceptual artists Robert Rauschenberg, Yoko Ono, Claes Oldenburg, and Red Grooms—and was home to several Happenings. Happenings were often unpredictable and provocative, like Carolee Schneemann’s 1964 performance piece Meat Joy, which featured nude performers who played with paint, sausage, and raw chickens, and was presented at Judson Gallery. The seeds of Happenings were planted in the early 1950s at Black Mountain College, when John Cage and his peers began developing mixed-media spectacles that emphasized live performance. Allan Kaprow, Dick Higgins, and Al Hansen were early Happenings innovators who attended Cage’s influential, consciousness-raising class at the New School for Social Research in 1958. Kaprow started out as a Jackson Pollock–inspired action painter, then began incorporating aluminum foil and other matter. Like many artists who became part of 1960s avant-garde art movements, he developed an expanded approach to painting, composition, poetry, and, eventually, performance. Kaprow’s classmate Al Hansen also performed Happenings at Judson Gallery—such as his 1964 piece, Oogadooga—and in 1965 was the first to publish a book about the subject, A Primer of Happenings and Time/Space Art. However, his idiosyncratic nature doomed any possibility of a “career” in art.
From Chapter 9 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore