Philadelphia Museum of Art Celebrates the Avant-garde with 'Dancing around the Bride'

John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and Robert Rauschenberg, 1964

Marcel Duchamp (28 July 1887 – 2 October 1968) is one of the most crucial artists of the 20th Century, a father of the Dadaist and Surrealist movements, a spiritual godfather to the Pop Art revolution, an adviser to some of the most important museums, curators and collectors in America before his passing in 1968. That this avant-garde avatar’s most notorious works reside in a wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art has forever made this city magnetic north for any experimental artist worth his salt. Pre-Pop painters Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg visited Philly’s Art Museum often throughout the 50s, intersected with composer John Cage and choreographer Merce Cunningham and together – whether by accident or on purpose – formed a perfect union of where the American avant-garde would go. Starting October 30 (and running through January 2013), a Philadelphia Art Museum (PMA) exhibition Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp, celebrates that union.

Walkaround Time premiere, 1968
These artists created works that integrated and blurred the lines between the visual arts, music, and dance back then, and continue to inspire and define contemporary art today. Along with the work of Cage, Cunningham, Johns and Rauschenberg populating parts of the Duchamp gallery and its surrounding galleries, French artist Philippe Parreno will operate a soundscape installation involving Cage’s still music while a dance floor space hosts performances of Cunningham’s famed spacious choreography. In particular, Cunningham’s Walkaround Time, a dance piece with sets by Johns that was inspired by Duchamp’s The Large Glass, will be an important part of the PMA’s exhibition.

In conjunction with the exhibition, performing-arts organization Bowerbird holds its festival-within-a-festival Cage: Beyond Silence in honor of the composer’s centenary. While live Bowerbird music performances and installations take place throughout the exhibition, the most notable first event occurs November 3 at Christ Church Philadelphia in Old City with a performance of Cage’s "Organ2 / ASLSP" (which stands for "As SLow(ly) and Soft(ly) as Possible"). Once there, organist Parker Kitterman and other keyboardists will play throughout the evening and into the wee morning hours of November 4 on the legendary Curtis Organ housed within the historic Christ Church.

The Large Glass, Duchamp
Additional live Dancing with the Bride events including those featuring local performance artists such as Mauri Walton and the composer/musicians from fidget are Philadelphia Museum of Art sponsored and will he held at the museum along with other area venues. Most of all, the exhibition will reawaken audiences to the power and playful pleasure of Duchamp (28 July 1887 – 2 October 1968), the giddy world of ready-made art (such as 1917s Urinal) and his two most epic creations, the darkly sexual cubby hole of Étant Donnés: 1. La Chute D'Eau, 2. Le Gaz D'Éclairage (Given: 1. The Waterfall, 2. The Illuminating Gas) and the powerfully odd The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass). As a writer and as an artist, your humble narrator can attest to the potency of this particular wing of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the power it holds over those who dream there.

Philadelphia Museum of Art
2600 Ben Franklin Parkway

Not Wanting to Say Anything about Marcel, 1969. John Cage
All photos courtesy The Philadelphia Museum of Art

Posted on Monday, October 22, 2012 1:55 PM