Dancing around the Bride is the first exhibition to explore the interwoven lives, works, and experimental spirit of Marcel Duchamp (American, born France, 1887–1968) and four of the most important American postwar artists: composer John Cage (1912–1992), choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009), and visual artists Jasper Johns (born 1930) and Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008). Creating both individually and together, they profoundly affected the direction of postwar avant-garde art and American culture as a whole. The exhibition tells of their multiple levels of engagement, focusing on the ways in which Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg produced work inextricably linked to key aspects of Duchamp’s practice, such as the use of chance, the incorporation of everyday materials into their art, and the probing of the boundaries between art and life. With over eighty objects, stage sets, musical compositions, videos of dance, and live dance and music performances, the exhibition is organized as an environment in which visitors can explore the creative world of these artists and experience diverse aspects of their work firsthand. Duchamp’s celebrated painting Bride (1912) introduces to the exhibition a central character that would later become the protagonist of his masterwork The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23). The Bride served as a critical point of reference for Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg, and their works that invoke the physical and conceptual figure of the Bride are brought together here for the first time. A potent example is Johns and Cunningham’s homage to Duchamp, Walkaround Time (1968), in which Johns’s décor replicates elements of the Large Glass and Cunningham’s choreography references different aspects of Duchamp’s oeuvre, including the mechanical movements of his Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2)(1912).
Dancing around the Bride unfolds in a series of four sections devoted to the Bride, to chance, to collaborations and performance, and to chess as a symbol of these rich exchanges. Envisioned collaboratively with contemporary artist Philippe Parreno (French, born 1964), the exhibition’s design allows for a variety of visitor experiences, from close examination of stationary works of art to timed sequences of videos, music, and live events occurring in the exhibition space, such as performances of Cunningham’s radical choreographies planned in concert with the Merce Cunningham Trust. A festival of Cage’s innovative music— presented by Philadelphia-based organization Bowerbird in conjunction with the Museum and in close consultation with the John Cage Trust—includes performances at the Museum and in other venues throughout the city. The artists of Dancing around the Bride created works that blurred the boundaries between art and life through a radical exploration of chance, collaboration, and interdisciplinarity—practices that have proven to be highly influential today. As the works of Cage, Cunningham, Johns, and Rauschenberg have never before been examined together in the context of their exchanges with Marcel Duchamp, the exhibition presents these artists in a new light, revealing their profound effects on one another and on the reinvention of art itself in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.