MCA CHICAGO
IL, USA
February 11 – April 30, 2017

The Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis together present the largest survey ever of Merce Cunningham and his dynamic artistic collaborations in the immersive exhibition Merce Cunningham: Common Time. This major exhibition, organized by the Walker, runs at both museums concurrently, premiering at the Walker on February 8, and at the MCA on February 11, with performances by international touring companies and former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancers. The exhibition embodies both institutions’ dedication to cross-disciplinary programming and artistic practice, and is organized by the Walker Art Center’s Artistic Director Fionn Meade and Director and Senior Curator of Performing Arts Philip Bither, with Joan Rothfuss and Mary Coyne. It is overseen at the MCA Chicago by Curator Lynne Warren.

Renowned as both a choreographer and a dancer, Merce Cunningham (American, 1919-2009) revolutionized dance in the 20th century and continues to influence generations of artists, composers, and choreographers. Cunningham’s innovations and philosophies over a prolific 60-year career changed the course of modern dance and provided the impetus and inspiration for key movements in postwar artistic practice. The exhibition draws primarily on the Walker’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) Collection—acquired following the company’s disbanding in 2011—which includes costumes, decor elements, and sets from major works spanning the breadth of the company’s creativity.

Exploring what Cunningham described as the “underlying principle that music and dance and art could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time,” the exhibition showcases Cunningham’s multidisciplinary collaborations between leading post-war artists. Performance backdrops, costumes, artworks, photographs, documentary video and video installations, sets, and ephemera immerse viewers in Cunningham’s creative activities. The exhibition highlights partnerships with artists including lifelong collaborator John Cage as well as Black Mountain colleague Robert Rauschenberg and other major figures including Jasper Johns, Robert Morris, and Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol, all of whom developed work for MCDC.

The exhibition presents a rare opportunity to view innovative and less recognized immersive installations by such artists as Charles Atlas and Ernesto Neto. Special features include a presentation of Andy Warhol’s décor for Cunningham’s RainForest, made of Warhol’s famous helium-filled silver balloons, and Charles Atlas’s MC9 , which fills one of the MCA galleries with 35 years of clips from Cunningham pieces in a dazzling audio-visual realization.

Common Time also comprises new commissions, including performances of Cunningham’s ‘Events’ by former company dancers Dylan Crossman, Silas Riener, Jamie Scott, and Melissa Toogood; a 3D video and live collaborative performance of Tesseract by Charles Atlas, Rashaun Mitchell, and Silas Riener; Morton Feldman’s monumental six-hour-long work with the Spektral Quartet; an experiential concert exploring sound and volume led by Matthew Duvall; and re-stagings of Cunningham’s repertory from contemporary dance company CCN–Ballet de Lorraine.

Throughout the exhibition, listening stations present some of the many important musical compositions commissioned by Cunningham from Cage and artists such as David Behrman, Morton Feldman, Takehisa Kosugi, Pauline Oliveros, and David Tudor. Films and videos by Nam June Paik and Charles Atlas explore how Cunningham worked to present dance especially for the screen. By presenting littleknown facets of well-known careers within the context of Cunningham’s work, Common Time sheds new light on the risk-taking spirit Cunningham embodied in his own practice and cultivated among his collaborators.

Over his prolific 60-year career, Merce Cunningham’s many innovations in the field of dance were fueled by his philosophy that movement did not need to be tied to telling a story or even set to music. This exhibition explores Cunningham’s influence on the arts, through the notion of “common time.” His nonhierarchical attitude had composers, musicians, designers, and visual artists working together as equals. “Common time” was a radical break with the more traditional model where an individual conceives the dance and has input into all aspects of its realization. This co-existent relationship of the arts was exemplified by Cunningham’s lifelong collaborations with composer John Cage.

This exhibition emphasizes the cross-disciplinary relationships between Cunningham’s Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which he formed in 1953, and the leading post-World War II figures with whom he worked. He partnered with visual artists who created décors—the stage elements within which the dancers interact—as well as costumes. Composers were tapped to contribute existing compositions or asked to create a score, but often with little explanation of the dance Cunningham had choreographed. Cunningham’s revolutionary vision of creativity is presented in projects dating from the 1940s to recent years. Décor, costumes, and music are augmented with photomurals and video documentation of the dances that demonstrate his “independent and interdependent” way of working.