While Trisha Brown (b. 1936) is best known for her innovative choreographies that revolutionized modern dance, she has for many years made drawings and other works beyond the stage that integrate the performing and visual arts. Trisha Brown presents a particular occasion to consider the lesser-known visual arts practice of one of the most acclaimed contemporary choreographers at a moment of increasing interest in the broad sweep of her work and its influence. Drawing has long featured prominently in Brown’s maverick practice, shifting from a tool for schematic composition into a fully-realized component of her broader investigation into the limits of her own body.
Among the most active artists to have emerged from the multidisciplinary avant-garde of 1960s New York, Brown pioneered within dance the idea of the body as a field with varying centers, encouraging her performers to conceive of dances in which movement could begin in a variety of locations throughout their bodies, by turns embracing and defying gravity. Early in her career, Brown created works in which performers walked on the walls of a gallery or down the exterior façade of a building—rather than on the floor. The exhibition takes inspiration in its structure from Brown’s interest in reorienting the performer and audience, with a performance installation that places live dancers on the wall of the gallery, and a participatory audio work that invites visitors to lie on the gallery floor and contemplate the ceiling. The former work, Planes (1968), is a major early performance that includes a film by Jud Yalkut and soundtrack by Simone Forti; the latter, Skymap (1969), was Brown’s one attempt to engage the ceiling as a performative surface.
The exhibition centers on a broad survey of Brown’s drawings going back more than three decades, concluding with a large drawing to be performed by the artist at the opening for inclusion in the show. To a significant degree, the arc of Brown’s work in drawing parallels her developments in dance, and footage of seminal performances is present throughout the exhibition. Whether she is working within the frame of a sheet of paper, on the wall, or on the stage, Brown delights in the play between structure and improvisation, between repetition and invention, and between choice and chance. “I get involved in the mystery of space,” she says. “I have the same adrenaline and heartbeat going as I enter the paper as I do going on stage.”
As an extension of the exhibition, the Walker is organizing a number of Brown’s early performance works around the museum during the show, including a rare presentation of Man Walking Down the Side of a Building (1970), and a number of performances by the full company as part of the Walker’s performing arts program.
Trisha Brown’s work has been shown in group and solo exhibitions, most recently Documenta 12, and she has directed numerous operas. She is the first woman choreographer to receive the MacArthur Foundation Fellowship and has been awarded many other honors including the National Medal of Arts in 2003. She was named Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the government of France in 1988; was elevated to Officier in 2000; and then to the level of Commandeur in 2004. Brown’s Set & Reset is included in the baccalaureate curriculum for French students pursuing dance studies. At the invitation of President Bill Clinton, Brown served on the National Council on the Arts from 1994 to 1997.