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Merce Cunningham: Common Time

Merce Cunningham’s dynamic artistic collaborations are the subject of a major interdisciplinary survey organized by the Walker, home to the complete scenic and costume archive of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC). Renowned as both choreographer and dancer, Cunningham (American, 1919–2009) revolutionized dance through his partnerships with leading artists who created costumes, lighting, films, music, and décor and whose independent creative instincts he held in the highest regard. Common Time offers a journey through a range of experiential installations that unfold at the Walker in seven galleries, the theater, the cinema, and public spaces throughout the museum.

Known for embracing risk and chance, Cunningham believed in the radical notion that movement, sound, and visual art could exist independently of each other, coming together only during the “common time” of a performance. The exhibition presents Cunningham’s work and that of his network of collaborators through rare and never-before-seen moving image presentations and installations of décor and costumes from the MCDC Collection as well as pieces by his lifelong collaborator, composer John Cage, and Trisha Brown, Tacita Dean, Jasper Johns, Morris Graves, Robert Morris, Bruce Nauman, Isamu Noguchi, Nam June Paik, Yvonne Rainer, Robert Rauschenberg, Frank Stella, David Tudor, Stan VanDerBeek, Andy Warhol, and many others.

Cunningham embraced an expanded possibility of dance, music, and visual art that reads like a how-to guide for pushing the boundaries of art for subsequent generations. In this spirit, the exhibition will also feature new performing arts commissions as well as live dance and music in the theater and galleries. Presentations include a series of in-gallery Events, site-responsive collages of Cunningham repertory performed by dancers from the final company as well as new commissions from leading figures in contemporary choreography and composition, including Charles Atlas/Rashaun Mitchell/Silas Riener, Beth Gill, Maria Hassabi, and John King, among others.

The landmark exhibition will investigate the unique working methods, profound relationships, and influence of a choreographer whose singular approach to sharing a “common time” remains one of the most inspirational models of the 20th century for interdisciplinary practice.

Merce Cunningham: Common Time is organized by the Walker Art Center, and copresented with the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago (MCA) (February 11–April 30, 2017), sharing a common time across two cities.

Curators: Fionn Meade and Philip Bither with Joan Rothfuss and Mary Coyne

Exhibition Catalogue

Common Time is accompanied by a major Walker-produced catalogue, one of the largest-ever publications on the work of Cunningham and his collaborators. The volume includes newly commissioned essays by scholars in a range of disciplines that examine Cunningham’s achievements from multiple vantage points, providing the most complete consideration of his work to date. The book also features many rarely published photographs, new images documenting the MCDC Collection, and an illustrated chronology placing Cunningham’s activities and those of his collaborators in the context of the expanded arts scene of the 1960s and 1970s.

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