Although the 40th anniversaries of Woodstock and the Stonewall Riots are behind us, there are still more ‘60s revolutions to be commemorated this year. On September 23, the retrospection continues with the opening of Allan Kaprow YARD, in which contemporary talents Sharon Hayes, Josiah McElheny and William Pope.L will interpret Yard, the seminal work by artist and Happenings inventor Allan Kaprow, for today’s audiences.
Pope.L will mount his project at the just-opened Hauser & Wirth New York gallery, located in the Upper East Side town house where Kaprow first unveiled Yard in 1961. That initial artwork piled the Martha Jackson Gallery with car tires and tar-paper-wrapped forms that visitors treated as a jungle gym for grown-ups—and they were encouraged to do so. Yard, which Kaprow installed eight more times before his death in 2006, is widely regarded as a forefather of the performance and installation art movements.
The new version at Hauser & Wirth is decidedly less optimistic than the original. Pope.L pairs his mountain of tires with body bags and mirrors, and adds a sound track featuring lapping waves, train whistles and a sermon-like reading to elicit thoughts of industry and ecological destruction.
"Kaprow believes you don’t reinstall something or reinstate it—you reinvent it," says Helen Molesworth, the head of the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art at the Harvard Art Museum/Fogg Museum and curator of the show.
Other contributions are staged elsewhere around town. Hayes takes advantage of the large open space at the New York Marble Cemetery, the City’s oldest nonsectarian burial ground, filling it with too many for-sale, foreclosure and political campaign signs to count.
McElheny’s installation, at the Queens Museum of Art, comprises painted tires, which Kaprow had considered for one of his own reinventions (he thought modern art was "scared of color," Molesworth explains). And in a nod to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, a sign will tell visitors that they may take a few of the giant tires home with them. "It has this impossible quality because carrying a tire away is really hard," Molesworth says. "It shows that most of us who view contemporary art are a little jaded. Now the question is, what becomes of participation when it’s more mandatory than revolutionary?"
Each interpretation of Yard is on view through October 24. Will those world-weary aficionados play along? Perhaps, Molesworth says, but even more likely, they’ll recognize the historical relevance of a visit. "The definition of art is more porous than it has ever been. And that openness comes from experiments like Allan Kaprow’s."