- Dance and the Gallery: Curation as Revision
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. . . for several years now I’ve failed to find a solution to the London Tate Modern’s demand for an exhibition of dance. . . . I never managed to find an adequate connection between the museum framework and dance. . . . We must try and solve this problem: dance is starting to be recognized as art. In the end it’s as if you had to enter the museum to be legitimized! As a result, pressure to exhibit is growing.
13 Rooms, an exhibition curated by Hans Ulrich Obrist (Serpentine Gallery, London) and Klaus Biesenbach (MoMA, New York) and presented in Sydney in April 2013, included the work of choreographers and dancers as authors, performers, objects, and gallery guides.1 Described by its curators as an exhibition of “living sculptures” featuring “protagonists,” it raised many issues around dance-based knowledges, power relations between dance and the visual arts, art as commodity, and performer agency in performance-based works exhibited in galleries, particularly re-enacted durational works. During the course of the exhibition, a cast of around 100 performers, drawing on their own repository of physical training and “body-archive,” realized works by artists such as Marina Abramovic (Luminosity, 1997) and Joan Jonas (Mirror Check, 1970). These two works in particular required physical skills and training, and the performers were chosen on this basis. For both these pieces, the body-to-body transmission of the artists’ intentions—which is so important in dance processes—was undertaken by the artists’ representatives.
Just prior to 13 Rooms, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barbican in London presented Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp, an exhibition curated by Carlos Basualdo and Erica F. Battle with a mise en scène by artist Philippe Parreno (Basualdo and Battle 2013).2 In the following survey of selected exhibitions from 2008–2013 that highlighted the choreographic content in their titles, artistic rationale, and content, this is the [End Page 5] one I experienced in its London manifestation, and it occurred at a crucial time in my research. While it was thrilling to hear John Cage’s music and to see the works of Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, and Marcel Duchamp, the representation of dance in the exhibition was disappointing. Videos of Cunningham’s work were played in the gallery shop, parts of Rauschenberg’s sets for the choreographer were exhibited, and live performances were scheduled in the evenings and on weekends. Parreno also added the sounds of “ghost dancers” to the exhibition that was affecting; the rhythm of Cunningham’s invisible choreography was brought to light in an unexpected way in this instance. Cunningham’s Rainforest (1968) was performed by the Rambert Dance Company on a small stage in the middle of the gallery, and I saw some other Cunningham choreography performed by dance students from London Contemporary Dance School. In comparison to the care that had been taken with the art objects, taken in its totality, and in comparison with the care that had been taken with the art objects, this seemed an inadequate way to present Cunningham’s contributions that were not designed for such a space and, in several cases, were performed by students rather than professionals.
The catalogue accompanying Dancing Around the Bride is described as a “reader” for the exhibition, and delivers frameworks and a model of curatorial organization that echo the ideals of the featured artists. The curators’ opening essay begins with Cunningham’s memorial at the Park Avenue Armory, NYC, in 2009 and the dancing they witnessed there. They describe how the dancing “brought [the dancers] together in space and time while unmistakably setting them apart” (Basualdo and Battle 2013, 19). They use this choreographic image as a metaphor for the relationships between Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Cage, Duchamp, and Johns, and it is this model of “alongsidedness” that shapes the exhibition. Cunningham’s choreography is used by the curators as a model in Dancing Around the Bride for staging the interdisciplinary exchanges and...