Exhibitions

Merce Cunningham – Common Time

Common Time is a major survey organized by the Walker Art Centre and the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago that investigates Merce Cunningham’s groundbreaking practice and multidisciplinary collaborations that revolutionized dance in the 20th century and continue to influence generations of artists, composers, and choreographers.

Text Eline Verstegen
Exhibition Common Time
Artist(s) Merce Cunningham
Venue Walker Art Centre, Minneapolis
Photography Rachel Joyce

One of the most influential choreographers and dancers of the 20th century, 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. Merce Cunningham: Common Time is the first survey exhibition to measure the late choreographer and dancer’s indelible impact on generations of artists. The exhibition presents an unparalleled emphasis on the cross-disciplinary collaborations between the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC) and leading postwar artists who created original compositions, costumes, lighting, and set designs for the company. The exhibition takes as its starting point the notion of “common time,” described by Cunningham as the “underlying principle that music and dance and art could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time.” This co-existent relationship of the arts, exemplified by Cunningham’s lifelong collaborations with composer John Cage, serves as the foundation for a career of exemplifying and fostering this shared philosophy.

The exhibition will feature works that bridge disciplines by visual artists including: William Anastasi, Charles Atlas, Dove Bradshaw, George Brecht, Rudy Burkhardt, Trisha Brown, John Cage, Elliot Caplan, Remy Charlip, Merce Cunningham, Larry Colwell, Philip Corner, Tacita Dean, Morton Feldman, Martha Graham, Morris Graves, Al Hansen, Deborah Hay, Dick Higgins, Toshi Ichiyanagi, Allan Kaprow, Takehisa Kosugi, Jasper Johns, Mark Lancaster, Jackson Mac Low, George Maciunas, Charlotte Moorman, Peter Moore, Richard Moore, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Ernesto Neto, Isamu Noguchi, Pauline Oliveros, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, D.A. Pennebaker, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, M.C. Richards, Sonjia Sekula, Marsha Skinner, Frank Stella, Charlotte Trowbridge, David Tudor, Stan VanDerBeek, Andy Warhol, Christian Wolff, Yukata Yoshii, and La Monte Young.

In addition to featuring upwards of sixty significant works from Cunningham’s collaborators, the exhibition will include key stage décor works from the Walker’s MCDC Collection adapted for gallery display including Frank Stella’s Scramble (1967), Jasper Johns’s (after Marcel Duchamp) Walkaround Time (1968), Robert Morris’s Canfield (1969), and Mark Lancaster’s Fractions I (1978). Highlights of the exhibition also include never-before seen moving image works, including the recently-discovered recording of Music Walk for Dancers (1958) and Assemblage (1968), and foreground the artist’s experimentation with new media technologies, represented by projects with Charles Atlas and Elliot Caplan, with whom he developed medium-specific “dance for camera.” Merce Cunningham: Common Time presents a rare opportunity to delve into innovative and less recognized immersive installations by Ernesto Neto, Stan VanDerBeek, and Andy Warhol, and major film and video installations by Charles Atlas and Tacita Dean that reflect upon Cunningham’s significant career by incorporating performances by Cunningham and his company.

Throughout the exhibition, ambient audio playlists will present some of the many important musical compositions commissioned by Cunningham from Cage, David Behrman, Morton Feldman, Takehisa Kosugi, Pauline Oliveros, and David Tudor among others. By exploring little-known facets of well-known careers within the context of Cunningham’s work, the exhibition promises to shed new light on the truly risk-taking spirit Cunningham embodied in his own practice and cultivated among his collaborators, underscoring Cunningham and his company’s seminal role in post-war artistic practice.

Extending the trajectory of influence to the present, Common Time comprises three new dance commissions by leading abstract movement innovators of today, including STAGING, a new durational dance and installation work from Maria Hassabi performed by eight dancers; Tesseract, a 3-D video and live collaborative stage work by former Cunningham dancers Rashaun Mitchell + Silas Riener with five additional dancers, in collaboration with long-time Cunningham media collaborator and video artist Charles Atlas; and the world premiere of a new ensemble work by New York-based choreographer Beth Gill.

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