Discover the power and influence of Merce Cunningham’s work at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago’s (MCA) retrospective “Common Time.”
Walking through this exhibit dedicated to the famed choreographer and dancer is like walking through the history of modern art. It’s almost like playing a game of six degrees of separation when you see and hear work from Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Robert Morris, Andy Warhol, and John Cage among others. Costumes, props, videos, sets, and backdrops created by these artists for Cunningham choreography are heavily featured in the exhibit.
This intense amount of collaboration demonstrates Cunningham’s fundamental principle that “music and dance and art could be separate entities independent and interdependent, sharing a common time.” When Cunningham had a choreography set he would approach these artists and ask them to create something for his piece without giving much direction except for the length of the piece. The dance often had very little to do with the music or sets. It wouldn’t be a surprise if the dancers hadn’t heard the music that was going to accompany the piece until the rehearsal. Sometimes Cunningham would see an art installation and just add it to a piece. When he saw Warhol’s “Silver Clouds” he asked Warhol for permission to use the balloons in his piece “RainForest,” which also featured leotards cut by Jasper Johns. Exhibit visitors will see the leotards and images from “RainForest” along with being able to play with the balloons in this exhibit.
While the design and color of the backdrops along with the interesting choices made for the music are captivating in themselves, it’s Cunningham’s choreography that is hard to ignore. His movements demonstrate extreme power and difficulty. There’s no such thing as a simple triplet for Cunningham as triplets need complicated hand and torso movements added to them at the same time. As he got older and his body couldn’t keep up with his mind Cunningham actually used motion capture to help choreograph his pieces. Cunningham pushed the limits of his dancers’ bodies with the choreography he designed through motion capture. A lot of the choreography can be seen through video installations throughout the exhibit. However, there will also be extensive lectures and performances from former dancers, collaborators, and those inspired by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, which dissolved when Cunningham passed away in 2009, throughout the exhibit’s stay at the MCA.
“Merce Cunningham: Common Time” is on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, 220 E. Chicago Ave. For tickets and more information visit mcachicago.org/Exhibitions/2017/Merce-Cunningham-Common-Time.