Merce Cunningham at the Walker Art Center

In March 2011, the Walker Art Center announced the single largest visual arts acquisition in its history: more than 1,000 artist-made decors, props, costumes, and painted drops created for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC). The acquisition, with works by Robert Rauschenberg, Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, and other leading visual artists, was a key moment in a relationship between the Walker and Cunningham that has spanned more than four decades, stretching back to 1963 when the Walker first presented the acclaimed choreographer’s work.

Andrea Weber, Daniel Roberts, and Jonah Bokaer in Merce Cunningham’s “Interscape” (2000), décor by Robert Rauschenberg. Photo: Tony Dougherty.

This fall, the Walker marks the beginning of a new era in its relationship with Cunningham, presenting the ten-day celebration “The Next Stage: Merce Cunningham at the Walker Art Center.” The celebration, running from October 28 to November 6, 2011, will feature dance works, talks, and workshops; the first in a series of research exhibitions featuring the items from the acquisition; and some of the MCDC’s final performances before the company disbands in December.

Merce Cunningham (1919–2009) was a leader of the American avant-garde throughout his seventy year career and is considered one of the most important choreographers of our time. With an artistic career distinguished by constant innovation, Cunningham expanded the frontiers not only of dance, but also of contemporary visual and performing arts. His collaborations with artistic innovators from every creative discipline have yielded an unparalleled body of American dance, music, and visual art.

The Walker has supported Cunningham’s work for over 45 years through nine residencies, three commissions, an exhibition, and some 17 separate engagements, including three world premieres and two U.S. premieres. Four performances at the Walker this fall are part of the company’s planned two-year Farewell Legacy Tour. The company will disband at the end of December 2011, when the tour concludes.

In a career spanning more than 70 years, Cunningham not only redefined dance, but also the role of the visual arts within its expanding parameters. He developed collaborative relationships based on free-thinking experimentation and exchange with numerous leading visual artists. The results of this approach will be explored in successive research exhibitions called “Dance Works.” Featuring objects from the Walker’s newly-acquired collection from the MCDC, as well as other objects already in the Walker collection, these exhibitions reframe our understanding of Cunningham’s groundbreaking collaborators.

Dance Works I: Merce Cunningham/Robert Rauschenberg
November 3, 2011–August 5, 2012
Dance Works I explores Cunningham’s work with Robert Rauschenberg, widely considered one of the most innovative visual artists of the 20th century. Cunningham and Rauschenberg first collaborated in 1952 when the two were students at Black Mountain College in North Carolina. Rauschenberg was resident designer for the MCDC from 1954 to 1964, during which time he and Cunningham worked together on over twenty dances. Rauschenberg returned in later years to collaborate with Cunningham on several additional works. The exhibition features an enormous backdrop painted by Rauschenberg framing other rarely seen works he made for Cunningham’s dances, including large-scale sculptural objects that lend new perspective to Rauschenberg’s famous “Combines” of the 1950s.
Curator: Darsie Alexander

Dance Works II: Merce Cunningham/Ernesto Neto
December 15, 2011–July 1, 2012
Ernesto Neto is a leading figure in Brazil’s contemporary art scene, known for large-scale, sculptural abstractions that often hang from the ceiling and are influenced by the human body and other living organisms. For Cunningham’s Views on Stage, which premiered in Edinburgh in 2004, Neto created a massive installation of globular sacs suspended above the dancers on stage; made of translucent white nylon, its organic forms were intended as a kind of blank canvas to be illuminated by colored lights. Visitors to the exhibition can move beneath and around the installation in the Perlman Gallery, whose dramatically high ceilings approximate the fly space of a theater stage.
Curator: Siri Engberg

The acquisition and exhibition of works from the Merce Cunningham Dance Company archive is made possible by generous support from Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Dorothy Lichtenstein, the MAHADH Fund of HRK Foundation, Linda and Lawrence Perlman, Goodale Family Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, David Teiger, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011. Media partner Mpls.St.Paul Magazine.

Walker Art Center
1750 Hennepin Avenue
Minneapolis, MN 55403

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