Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp

1/7: Former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform underneath inflatable plastic boxes that Jasper Johns imprinted with images from Marcel Duchamp’s The Large Glass for Merce Cunningham’s Walkaround Time of 1968. Left to right: Emma Desjardins and Marcie Munnerlyn. Dancers appear courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Trust. Photo by Constance Mensh, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
2/7: Carlos Basualdo, the Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art, stands before Jasper Johns’ painting According to What (1964) in Dancing around the Bride. Photo by Constance Mensh, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
3/7: Former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company perform in a Cunningham Event in the Philadelphia Museum of Art galleries during the exhibition Dancing around the Bride. Left to right: Emma Desjardins, Melissa Toogood, John Hinrichs, Marcie Munnerlyn, and Brandon Collwes. Dancers appear courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Trust. Photo by Constance Mensh, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
4/7: Brandon Collwes, a former member of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, performs on the Main Stage of Dancing around the Bride. The bicycle wheel and chairs are by Robert Rauschenberg (in homage to Marcel Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel of 1913) for Merce Cunningham’s Travelogue production of 1977. Dancers appear courtesy of the Merce Cunningham Trust. Photo by Constance Mensh, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
5/7: Photo courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery.
6/7: Photo by Felix Clay. Courtesy of Barbican Art Gallery.
7/7: Art handlers install Philippe Parreno’s marquee at the entrance of Dancing around the Bride at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Photo by Constance Mensh, courtesy of the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

“The Philadelphia Museum of Art was central to the encounter among some of the most important artists in the 20th century […] and tells the story of five extraordinary artists and what happened to art and culture when their lives and work intersected” said Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) curator Carlos Basualdo, in a CityPaper article. “That encounter had ripples, and we’re still part of those ripples today.” One notable event took place in the 1950s, when artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg traveled to the PMA to view its seminal collection of work by Marcel Duchamp, including his masterwork, The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). Duchamp, who radically expanded the idea of what an artwork could be, had a profound influence on Johns and Rauschenberg, as well as composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham. He was the central focus of Dancing around the Bride, presented at the PMA.

The centerpiece of the expansive exhibition was the “Main Stage”—one of several elements designed by French artist Phillippe Parreno—on which former members of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company performed. As the exhibition’s miseur-en-scene, Parreno designed a theater marquee at the show’s entrance as well as the show’s lighting, and a soundscape of various audio elements, including Cage’s music, birdcalls, traffic noises, and the sound of dancers feet on a stage. Around the periphery of the Main Stage were paintings, sculptures, prints, drawings, and ephemera that documented and showed influence of the artists many interactions and influences on each other. While the galleries were deliberately composed and thematized (one was devoted to the subject of chess), many of the artworks were the results of chance procedures, a composition tactic employed by Duchamp but later used extensively by Rauschenberg, Cunningham, and Cage, and to a lesser degree Johns.

Concurrent with the exhibition, new music organization Bowerbird presented a John Cage festival in conjunction with the PMA, that took place at venues across the city. Cage: Beyond Silence unfolded in 10-day arcs, which gave audiences multiple chances to hear Cage’s work and to gain a broader understanding of his impact on contemporary artistic practice beyond the music field. The segments, The Year Begins to Be Ripe (November 30 to December 9, 2012) and At Least We Have Begun (January 11–20, 2013), juxtaposed Cage’s mid-career Song Books and his late-career Number Pieces. Several of the same works were performed multiple times by different artists, which underscored the importance of the interpreter and echoed themes of randomness and realization addressed in Dancing around the Bride. “With Cage, guidelines are more open,” said pianist Margaret Leng Tan, a participating festival artist and former collaborator of Cage’s, in the Philadelphia Inquirer. “He asks you to be very much a part of the creative process.”

Together, the exhibition and festival demonstrated the continued resonance and impact this multidisciplinary model has on contemporary work. “The explosion not only of creativity but of creative freedom and exchange is highly relevant to the dynamic structures of collaboration being explored by artists today,” Project Curatorial Assistant Erica Battle said. Basualdo also pointed out that the overall potential of interdisciplinary exchange continued to be strong for contemporary artists looking back at these five major 20th-century artists and their relationships: “This is about the past, but it’s about a past that is never fully past, a past that is still present.”

Grants & Grantees

This exhibition of contemporary art by seven artists serves as the complement to another exhibition of the library’s outstanding collection of Fraktur: Pennsylvania German folk artworks from the 18th and 19th centuries.

Anthracite Fields, a hybrid choral work commissioned with Center support, has won a 2015 Pulitzer Prize for musical composition.

Grants & Grantees

The Village of Arts and Humanities created a community-centered preservation plan to sustain the organization as the primary arts education institution in North Philadelphia.

Collaborators & Colleagues

Amy Sadao is the Daniel W. Dietrich, II Director at the Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) at the University of Pennsylvania.

An actor, director, stage designer, and playwright, Thaddeus Phillips “creates visual spectacles that take audiences to new frontiers.”

Founded in 1973, the Pennsylvania Humanities Council is a private, nonprofit, nongovernmental organization dedicated to providing every Pennsylvanian with access to the humanities.

In its 20th anniversary season, Orchestra 2001 presented An Opera, an Operetta, and a Songbook, a three-part performance of orchestral vocal compositions.

Leading hip-hop artist Raphael Xavier brought together masterful street performers, extreme BMX riders, acrobatic contortionists, and live music by saxophonist and composer Bobby Zankel for a contemporary circus-style performance in City Hall’s courtyard that paid tribute to the soul of the urban street.

Grants & Grantees

Sarah McEneaney is a painter and a 1993 Pew Fellow.

Grants & Grantees

Enid Mark (1932–2008) was a visual artist and a 2001 Pew Fellow.

Choral Arts Philadelphia presents the final installment of its concert series, 1734–1735: A Season in the Life of J.S. Bach.

Grants & Grantees

Pasión y Arte is an all-female dance company that creates challenging and original modern flamenco works.