Merce Cunningham: Common Time
I recently got the chance to see the Cunningham Exhibit at the Walker Arts Center in Minneapolis. It was amazing.
I must admit to a an on-again / off-again relationship with Cunningham. I studied Cunningham technique for years, even though my body is not made for it at all, and I have seen as much of his work as I could for many years.
I found I really enjoyed watching the rehearsals (especially on stage) more than the shows. In part, because of the raised level of randomness around the dancers – from technical crew wandering through the stage, lights and curtains flying and being focused – and partly because Merce would be onstage in a chair watching the dance. I found this fascinating, and wonderful. Onstage in performance, it all looked so polished and beautiful that it lost a bit of the humanness. While that may have been one point of the way he worked, I still related more to the chaotic humanness of rehearsals.
The Walker Arts managed to put together an exhibit that encapsulates everything that is wonderful about his work. Plus, you get to wander through exhibits creating that humanness that makes me so happy.
From costumes, video of work throughout his career, set pieces, collaborators… they cover it all. Remember Rauschenberg’s silver Mylar pillows? You get to play with them. And it is fun.
The videos and installations are inspiring and bring back all the visceral and intellectual reasons you had for being inspired by Cunningham’s work.
Known for embracing risk and chance, Cunningham believed in the radical notion that movement, sound, and visual art could exist independently of each other, coming together only during the “common time” of a performance. The exhibition presents Cunningham’s work and that of his network of collaborators through rare and never-before-seen moving image presentations and installations of décor and costumes from the MCDC Collection as well as pieces by his lifelong collaborator, composer John Cage, and Trisha Brown, Tacita Dean, Jasper Johns, Morris Graves, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Isamu Noguchi, Nam June Paik, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, David Tudor, Stan VanDerBeek, Andy Warhol, and many others.
Well said, Walker Arts Center.
Cunningham influenced several generations of dance artists around the world. Almost any contemporary work today owes some debt to his explorations. By allowing us the overwhelming experience of diving into the universe of Cunningham, the Walker Arts offers us, as artists, the opportunities to reaffirm our roots and the urge to push farther.