Philip Orenstein


Philip Orenstein was born in Paris, France, in December of 1938.  His family emigrated to the United States In December of 1949.  He lived in Brooklyn, New York, and attended New Utrecht High School.  In 1956 he went to N.Y.U.’s College of Engineering in the Bronx.  After his first year, he transferred to Rutgers, the state university of New Jersey, where he majored in physics.  He had a life-long interest in art and painted whenever he had the opportunity. 

While living in New York in the fifties, Orenstein developed an interest in visiting art museums and galleries just at the time the Abstract Expressionists were becoming known.  At Rutgers, he got involved in the art scene.  Although he never took an art studio course, he continued to paint and studied art history.  He took a course in modern art history with Allan Kaprow. 

Kaprow was connected with the New York art world, especially with the group of young artists who were rebelling against Abstract Expressionism.  He attended John Cage’s class at the New School along with Jim Dine, Claes Oldenburg, and others.  He called what he was doing “Happenings.”  At Rutgers, Kaprow influenced the students, faculty and other artists in the area to experiment with  the new art forms.  Lucas Samaras and Bob Whitman were students at Rutgers.  Bob Watts, Geoff Hendricks, and Roy Lichtenstein were on the faculty, and George Segal and George Brecht lived near the university.  Kaprow was like a gadfly to all these young unknown artists.  This resulted in three major art movement germinating at Rutgers in the late fifties: Happenings, Fluxus, and Pop Art.

One day, after a class on Manet, Kaprow went to visit Orenstein’s studio to look at his paintings.  They were somewhat large abstract works made with tar, plaster, and enamels on burlap bags stretched on old window frames.  Kaprow sat quietly for a while then said, “Phil, you’re not a physicist.  You’re an artist.”

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