Judson Dance Theater at MoMA

29th September 2018

I’m not sure I’m ready – or have time – to return to contributing frequent posts, but I am interested to see if I can occasionally draw together notes and pointers about topics that are engaging me. I want to dive more deeply into certain things than I’m able to do by simply linking to articles on a Sunday. If only for me to learn more about the topics. So here’s a first assembly, which I hope to add to, of some elements linked in this case to Judson Dance Theater.

Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done is a recently opened exhibition and ambitious events programme at MoMA in New York until 3 February. Judson Dance Theater was, as Wikipedia currently tells us, ‘a collective of dancers, composers, and visual artists who performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village in Manhattan… between 1962 and 1964. The artists involved were avant garde experimentalists who rejected the confines of Modern dance practice and theory, inventing as they did the precepts of Postmodern dance.’ Among those involved were Yvonne Rainer, Merce Cunningham, Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown and Robert Morris.

Siobham Burke’s feature for The New York Times At MoMA, how Judson blew up the rules of dance is a good place to start, both to learn about the collective and its work and also about how the museum has approached creating an exhibition of a largely ephemeral art.

Presence at the creation by Catherine Damman for Artforum is a terrific essay about the significance of Judson and about the complexities and contradictions of enshrining its practices in a museum:

Placed in the museum or gallery, dance might, the cynic suspects, have been herded there only to feed the ever-rapacious experience economy, to which arts institutions are now so maddeningly indentured; perhaps all this is nothing but the succumbing to the perverse pleasure of watching bodies at work and then calling it culture. I, however, choose to believe that curators and audiences are hungry for dance in (mostly) good faith, because they have tasted, like I have, all that it offers, everything it suggests about the possibilities—and the hazards—of making things with other people; how knowledge is transmitted over time; what it is to be in a room, watching, and the real responsibility in that.

For further detailed background about the show, watch this half-hour live stream of the MoMA press briefing with Ana Janevski, Curator, and Thomas J. Lax, Associate Curator.

Substantial reviews of the MoMA project include:

• MoMA Puts Judson Dance on display and, better yet, in motion: Gia Kourlas for The New York Times:

Perhaps the show’s curators, Ana Janevski, Thomas J. Lax and Martha Joseph, were trying to evoke the audacious, adventurous, anything-can-go spirit of the time. But in the exhibition, the density of material feels hectic and disjointed, like an event celebrating something that someone knows is cool, but can’t really explain why. To really grasp Judson’s history, it’s imperative to listen to the exhibition’s audio tour and to its oral histories.

Reliving an epochal moment: Robert Greskovic for the Wall Street Journal:

Newcomers to the Judson phenomenon will likely gain more insight by watching the choreographic presentations in the atrium and the galleries—much more, at least, than can be gleaned by looking at a loose leaf from a notebook or a still from a bygone dance event.

• Bold steps – MoMA celebrates 1960s dance pioneers the Judsonites: Apollinaire Scherr for the Financial Times:

Such once-novel notions as choreographing in collaboration with the dancers or having a dance comment on itself have been thoroughly absorbed into contemporary dance. Less ubiquitous is the priority Judson gave to the conceptual over the perceptual. These New Yorkers were the first generation in dance to do like Duchamp’s urinal. With Cunningham, nothing you could say about a piece would be as powerful as watching it. Judson made dances inseparable from the theories about them. They made thinking about dance feel less futile.

Other online resources include George Jackson’s essay [as a .pdf] Judson Church: Dance from the Dance Heritage Coalition.

Lead image: Peter Moore, performance view of Lucinda Childs’s Egg Deal, 1963. Judson Memorial Church, New York, November 20, 1963. Center: Lucinda Childs. Sculptures: Charles Ross; via Artforum.

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