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Exhibition explores Marcel Duchamp's impact on four great contemporary artists
Trophy II (for Teeny and Marcel Duchamp), 1961. Robert Rauschenberg, American, 1925-2008. Combine painting: oil, charcoal, paper, fabric, printed paper, printed reproductions, sheet metal, and metal spring on seven canvases, with chain, spoon, and water-filled plastic drinking glass on wood; 90 x 108 x 5 inches (228.6 x 274.3 x 12.7 cm). Walker Art Center, Minneapolis © Estate of Robert Rauschenberg/Licensed by VAGA, New York.

PHILADELPHIA, PA.- Examining one of the most important chapters in the history of contemporary art, Dancing around the Bride is the first exhibition to explore Marcel Duchamp’s American legacy by tracing his interactions and exchanges with four postwar masters: composer John Cage, choreographer Merce Cunningham, and visual artists Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. The exhibition features over one hundred works, including more than sixty by Johns and Rauschenberg and more than forty by Duchamp, as well as prerecorded and live music by John Cage and live performances of choreographies by Merce Cunningham. Many of these works are being seen together for the first time and reflect the artists’ multiple levels of engagement across the disciplines of art, dance, and music.

“As the Philadelphia Museum of Art holds the world’s largest and most significant collection of works by Marcel Duchamp, it is only fitting for the Museum to present this first exhibition juxtaposing works by Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg with one another and exploring their complex and vitally important relationship to Duchamp,” says Timothy Rub, the Museum’s George D. Widener Director and Chief Executive Officer. “This multidimensional and interdisciplinary show will enable visitors to experience and more fully appreciate one of the most exciting and momentous periods in the history of modern art.”

Setting the direction for many subsequent developments in contemporary art, Duchamp famously questioned the very definition of art, probing the distinction between art and life, turning to chance rather than fixed ideas about taste and aesthetics, and utilizing everyday objects not only in the creation of his work, but as objects of art themselves. Encountering Duchamp and his work at various moments during the early stages of their development, Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg each embraced key aspects of Duchamp’s ideas and artistic practices and, by doing so, reinvigorated Duchamp’s own reception in the United States from the 1960s onward. The exhibition highlights formative moments such as Johns and Rauschenberg’s 1958 visit to the Philadelphia Museum of Art to see Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23), one of the Museum’s greatest masterpieces and the source for this exhibition’s title.

“This exhibition is about the relationship between art and life,” notes Carlos Basualdo, exhibition curator and the Museum’s Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art. “It tells the story of five extraordinary artists and what happened to art and culture when their lives and work intersected. Their mutual interactions redefined the language of contemporary art in the 1950s and 60s.”

“The exhibition also reveals how important this moment was, and still is, for contemporary art and artists,” adds Erica F. Battle, Project Curatorial Assistant, who is organizing the exhibition in collaboration with Basualdo. “The explosion not only of creativity but of creative freedom and exchange that is examined in Dancing around the Bride is highly relevant to the dynamic structures of collaboration being explored by artists today.”

In this spirit, the curators are collaborating with French artist Philippe Parreno, who is responsible for the exhibition’s mise en scène, or its visual and spatial organization. Parreno—whose own film and installation work examines conditions of looking, temporality, and sequence—worked with the curators and exhibition design team to establish a timed sequence of audio elements, including Cage’s music and other sounds, and lighting as well as contribute artistic interventions that speak to the fruitful intersection of art, life, and experience.

Dancing around the Bride has been organized into four thematic sections. The first section titled “The Bride” looks at the central figure in Duchamp’s painting Bride (1912), which later became the protagonist in his Large Glass and in turn influenced such works as Johns’s suite of eight untitled ink on plastic drawings (1986) and Rauschenberg’s Bride’s Folly (1959).

The second section explores the theme of chance in works that share this Duchampian attitude, and charts the development of chance procedures in the music of Cage, the choreography of Cunningham, and the paintings and prints of Rauschenberg. Duchamp’s 3 Standard Stoppages (1913–14) is seen in dialogue with Cage’s Strings 1–20 (1980), Cunningham’s choreographic notes for Suite for Five (1956), and Rauschenberg’s Dirt Painting (for John Cage) (c. 1953).

In a section titled “The Main Stage” visitors can explore the collaborations and stage sets created by Rauschenberg and Johns for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, with one of the exhibition’s centerpieces, Johns and Cunningham’s homage to Duchamp, Walkaround Time (1968). Johns’s set design for this Cunningham choreography refers to elements of The Large Glass. This section of the exhibition also illustrates the intersecting work of Cunningham and Rauschenberg, whose Tantric Geography set design for Cunningham’s Travelogue (1977) evokes Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel (1964 replica of 1913 original).

As the game of chess was significant to Duchamp, the final section takes chess as both a literal motif and as a metaphor for exchanges among these artists. Duchamp’s Pocket Chess Set (1943) is seen with an electronic chessboard replicating the one that was used in Cage’s Reunion (1968), a chess game and musical performance with Duchamp. Additionally, artistic exchanges are detailed through works grouped by conceptual affinities, such as the juxtaposition of Duchamp’s Fountain (1950 replica of 1917 original) with Johns’s Painted Bronze (Ale Cans) (1960)and Duchamp’s With Hidden Noise (1916) with Rauschenberg’s Music Box (Elemental Sculpture) (c. 1953).

The Museum’s renowned Duchamp gallery (d’Harnoncourt Gallery 182) and two neighboring galleries (180 and 181) have been reinstalled on the occasion of Dancing around the Bride, bringing a constellation of works by Cage, Johns, and Rauschenberg together to surround Duchamp’s Large Glass. This includes Cage’s No Title (date unknown), Johns’s Numbers (2007), and Rauschenberg’s Untitled (Venetian) (1973) and Untitled (Hoarfrost) (1975).

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