The L.A Times reports that the Getty Research Institute has announced their acquisition of photographer Robert McElroy’s archive, which contains weird, wild, and wonderful scenes from the heyday of performance art in New York City. The collection contains approximately 700 prints and 10,000 negatives documenting the “Happenings”, performative and collaborative works by Allan Kaprow, Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and others that took place starting in the late 1950s. What began as small gatherings for those in the know quickly morphed into a large-scale cultural phenomenon that predicted the free-wheeling attitudes of the late 60s and early 70s.
Of course, before there were cell phones or video cameras, the best way to document these events was through photography. Thus, while the photos are filled with energy and chaos, there is the nagging sensation that something even wilder might be occurring just outside the frame. According to Glenn Phillips, acting head of the Research Institute’s Architecture and Contemporary Art department, this is part of what drew them to the collection. “With McElroy photographs, you never have the feeling that this is the one moment,” he said. “You always know it’s a fragment of what’s going on.” They epitomize the concept of a candid, while simultaneously serving as a document of a pivotal moment in art history.