Dorrance Special Exhibition Galleries, first floor
Dancing around the Bride is the first exhibition to explore the interwoven lives, works, and experimental spirit of Marcel Duchamp (American, born France, 1887–1968) and four of the most important American postwar artists: composer John Cage (1912–1992), choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009), and visual artists Jasper Johns (born 1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008). Creating both individually and together, they profoundly affected the direction of postwar avant-garde art and American culture as a whole. The exhibition tells of their multiple levels of engagement, focusing on the ways in which Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg produced work inextricably linked to key aspects of Duchamp's practice, such as the use of chance, the incorporation of everyday materials into their art, and the probing of the boundaries between art and life. With over eighty objects, stage sets, musical compositions, videos of dance, and live dance and music performances, the exhibition is organized as an environment in which visitors can explore the creative world of these artists and experience diverse aspects of their work firsthand.
Duchamp's celebrated painting Bride (1912) introduces to the exhibition a central character that would later become the protagonist of his masterwork The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23). The Bride served as a critical point of reference for Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg, and their works that invoke the physical and conceptual figure of the Bride are brought together here for the first time. A potent example is Johns and Cunningham's homage to Duchamp, Walkaround Time (1968), in which Johns's décor replicates elements of the Large Glass and Cunningham's choreography references different aspects of Duchamp's oeuvre, including the mechanical movements of his Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) (1912).
Dancing around the Bride unfolds in a series of four sections devoted to the Bride, to chance, to collaborations and performance, and to chess as a symbol of these rich exchanges. Envisioned collaboratively with contemporary artist Philippe Parreno (French, born 1964), the exhibition's design allows for a variety of visitor experiences, from close examination of stationary works of art to timed sequences of videos, music, and live events occurring in the exhibition space, such as performances of Cunningham's radical choreographies planned in concert with the Merce Cunningham Trust. A festival of Cage's innovative music— presented by Philadelphia-based organization Bowerbird in conjunction with the museum and in close consultation with the John Cage Trust—includes performances at the museum and in other venues throughout the city.
The artists of Dancing around the Bride created works that blurred the boundaries between art and life through a radical exploration of chance, collaboration, and interdisciplinarity—practices that have proven to be highly influential today. As the works of Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg have never before been examined together in the context of their exchanges with Marcel Duchamp, the exhibition presents these artists in a new light, revealing their profound effects on one another and on the reinvention of art itself in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.
The show features a soundscape that includes musical and sound works by Duchamp, Cage, Parreno, and composer David Behrman. This soundscape plays throughout the space and on two Yamaha Disklavier pianos, one in this gallery and one in the Great Stair Hall. The labels, Luciole (Fireflies), accompanying related manuscripts and interventions will light up to indicate what audible elements are being played.
The exhibition Dancing around the Bride presents the art, music, and dance of Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp in a distinctive scripted experience conceived by acclaimed artist and filmmaker Philippe Parreno (born 1964, France; lives and works in Paris). A contemporary artist working in film, sculpture, drawing, and installation, Parreno has incorporated novel modes of temporal and spatial sequencing in past exhibitions of his own work in a unique vision that considers the multivalent conditions of looking at art as interwoven with space, time, light, and sound.
Serving as the metteur en scène (orchestrator) of Dancing around the Bride, Parreno has choreographed many different types of encounters into the space of the exhibition, activating the role of time and motion around art objects and inviting visitors to join the artists in a ballroom setting. His interventions were conceived in imaginary dialogue with Duchamp with particular reference to the transparency of The Large Glass. Invoking the notion of the ghost, existing between presence and absence, Parreno's interventions reflect upon his interest in the tension between the lasting impact of these artists, the material fragility of the works they created, and the ephemeral nature of their collaborations. The varied sequence of Parreno's subtle orchestration of live and prerecorded sound, arranged in concert with live music and dance performances, enables the exhibition itself to change over time.
Parreno's interventions are woven throughout the exhibition:
The Bride emerged in the summer of 1912, while Marcel Duchamp sojourned to Munich, Germany in an intensive period of experimentation. Determined to develop a painting style that would constitute a radical departure from pre-existing schools, he left Paris for the German city, arriving on June 21. As he later recounted, the Bavarian city proved to be "the scene of my complete liberation." It was there that he painted Bride and several other preparatory sketches and oil paintings that he later transformed into elements of The Large Glass. Duchamp's transformation of the Bride into a mechanomorphic figure—a clear departure from his previous fauvist, cubist and futurist-inflected paintings—set him on the course of radical individuality that would characterize the rest of his career. Duchamp installed The Large Glass, with the Bride as its central character, in the Museum in 1954, having arranged its bequest from the estate of collector Katherine Dreier. There it joined his paintings, readymades, and works on paper from the Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, creating the most extensive collection of Duchamp's work and attracting young artists such as Johns and Rauschenberg to Philadelphia to experience it firsthand. Johns and Rauschenberg traveled to Philadelphia after a critic described Johns' paintings as "neo-Dada" in March 1957. Johns later recalled wanting to see Duchamp's work because at the time he "did not know what Dada was." Rauschenberg's development following the visit suggests an immediate desire in the young artist to respond to Duchamp's extreme rejection of traditional painting. His Bride's Folly of 1959 seems to refer not only to a generic bride figure but to his recent experience seeing Duchamp's painting and The Large Glass for the first time. The 1912 painting remained a touchstone for Johns as well, who returned to it in 1978 and again in 1986, creating a constellation out of Duchamp's icon.
The exhibition is made possible by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Philadelphia Exhibitions Initiative. Additional support is generously provided by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, The Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Glenstone, The Presser Foundation, the Dedalus Foundation, The Robert Saligman Charitable Foundation, Dr. Sankey V. Williams and Constance H. Williams, Dina and Jerry Wind, John Wind, Barbara B. and Theodore R. Aronson, Christie's, Mary S. and Anthony B. Creamer, Jaimie and David Field, Lawrence Luhring and Roland Augustine, Seda International Packaging Group, Mari and Peter Shaw, Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Levine, Alice Saligman and Klaus Brinkmann, and other generous individuals. The exhibition is supported by an indemnity from the Federal Council on the Arts and the Humanities.
Carlos Basualdo, The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art, in collaboration withErica F. Battle, Project Curatorial Assistant, Modern and Contemporary Art