Exhibit brings dance to a ‘Common Time’


Jack Mitchell » Courtesy Walker Art Center

“Merce Cunningham: Common Time” an exhibit highlighting Merce Cunningham, opens at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E Chicago Ave. on Feb. 11.

By Kendrah

Dancing, art, costumes and music will fill the Museum of Contemporary Art, during a new exhibit, highlighting the works of Merce Cunningham, a pioneer of modern dance.

The “Merce Cunningham: Common Time” exhibit, which will display Cunningham’s contributions as a dancer and choreographer, will open at the Museum of Contemporary Art, 220 E. Chicago Ave., starting Feb. 11 and will run until April 30.

The MCA exhibit is a collaboration with the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota, where the exhibition will be running simultaneously rather than moving between locations for months at a time.

“There was lots of material to draw from, and the idea, which is quite unorthodox in the museum field, [was] to open two shows simultaneously in two different metropolitan areas,” said Philip Bither, director and senior curator for performing arts at the Walker Art Center.

The MCA wants to reflect Cunningham’s philosophy of people individually creating art—backdrops, music, choreography—that will eventually combine to work in a “common time,” often coming together at the performances premiere, according to MCA curator Lynne Warren.

Cunningham’s multidisciplinary projects are featured in the exhibit, including videos,  and artwork as well as live performances of his work outside of the galleries and costumes. The exhibit also incorporates his collaborative work with artists including Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Bruce Nauman, Andy Warhol and John Cage. These components will make the exhibit exciting and unique, according to Bither.

Warren said the exhibit is an interesting way to continue the museum’s mission of hosting a variety of art forms by showing Cunningham’s career from the late ‘30s to his passing in 2009.

“The audience will be able to enter a kind of era where there was amazing inventiveness,” Warren said. “Merce Cunningham was a revolutionary figure in dance and choreography. He separated the need for dance to be tied directly to music or to narrative.”

Bonnie Brooks, associate professor in the Dance Department and director and lead curator of Dance Presenting Series, said Cunningham opened up new possibilities of how dance is performed onstage and off.

“[Cunningham] and his music collaborator John Cage really cracked open and reinvented the rules on how dance composition would work,” Brooks said. “They created whole new strategies for making work and putting it on the stage that created a whole new set of directions for dance.”

The exhibit blurs the line between stage, gallery and public spaces because of the massive collection celebrating  Cunningham’s impact on dance and the world of arts, according to Bither.

“He helped inspire and define the art of our time and the freedom he proposed about how the work was made,” Bither said. “Its uncompromising artistic nature really speaks to a kind of freedom he and Cage found in America that was embraced around the world because of the radical confidence he had in what he was doing, even when audiences didn’t fully understand it.”