A new exhibition exploring one of the most important chapters in the history of contemporary art, The Bride and the Bachelors is the first exhibition to specifically explore Marcel Duchamp’s (1887–1968) impact on four great modern artists – composer John Cage(1912–1992); dancer and choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009) and visual artists Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008) and Jasper Johns (born 1930). Tracing their creative exchanges and collaborations the exhibition features twenty-three works by Duchamp, and more than forty by Johns and Rauschenberg, as well pre-recorded music by Cage and live Cunningham performance. The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns is organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Barbican Art Gallery.
The exhibition is curated by Carlos Basualdo. International contemporary artist, Philippe Parreno has devised the ‘staging’ of the exhibition, drawing on the music of Cage and the choreography of Cunningham to create a dynamic experiential installation. It opens 14 February 2013.
Encountering Duchamp and his work in New York during the early stages of their own careers, each of the younger American artists embraced key elements of his ideas and practice, creating a seismic shift in the direction of art from the late 1950s and 60s which still resonates today. Often cited as being the father of conceptual art, Duchamp radically altered what we think of as art – employing chance and humour, questioning the tastemakers and perhaps most radically of all, creating works of art from everyday objects.
Jane Alison, Senior Curator, Barbican Art Gallery, said: “We are delighted to be working alongside Philadelphia Museum of Art to present this important exhibition that includes such a rich selection of influential works by Duchamp, Rauschenberg and Johns – many of them never shown in the UK before – alongside recorded performances by Cage and live Cunningham dance pieces within an immersive scenography developed by contemporary artist, Philippe Parreno.
‘The Bride and the Bachelors’ builds on Barbican Art Gallery’s critically acclaimed 2011 exhibition ‘Laurie Anderson, Trisha Brown, Gordon Matta-Clark: Pioneers of the Downtown Scene, New York 1970s’ which saw dancers turn our vast downstairs space into a living sculpture. In art historical terms, the exhibition follows on from our recent ‘Bauhaus: Art as Life’ show; Cage,Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns first met at Black Mountain College, where the influential Bauhaus teacher Josef Albers continued his radical pedagogic legacy. The Barbican also has a long standing relationship with the former Merce Cunningham Dance Company and the John Cage Trust and so it is with enormous pleasure that we can reassess their work afresh in a gallery context.”
The Bride and the Bachelors includes Duchamp’s legendary masterpiece Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2), 1912, which caused uproar exactly 100 years ago at the New York Armory Show. His first ‘readymade’, a bicycle wheel mounted on a stool was realised that same year in his Paris studio and a replica version is presented alongside other ‘readymades’ such asFountain, 1950 (the earliest replica of the 1917 original) and Bottlerack,1960 (this version a present to Robert Rauschenberg).
Also on show are twenty-five works by Rauschenberg, mostly from the 1950s and early 60s – the majority never, and others rarely shown in London before, including two influential White Paintings from 1951 and 1952, which parallel Cage’s most famous work, 4’ 33”, 1952. Johns is represented by nineteen works, including paintings No, 1961; M, 1962; and Flag, 1983. This is the largest showing of Johns’ work in the UK since the early 1990s and of Rauschenberg’s in the last 30 years.
At the centre of The Bride and the Bachelors is an exploration of Duchamp’s enigmatic ‘Bride’, featuring the painting Bride,1912 and the iconic The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1991–92 replica of the 1915–23 original. In her orbit are major early works by Rauschenberg and Johns; most crucially, Rauschenberg’s Bride’s Folly, 1959 – never previously shown in England and Johns and Cunningham’s homage to Duchamp, Walkaround Time, 1968, based on The Large Glass. Also shown on the lower level gallery are Rauschenberg’s large canvases: Trophy V (for Jasper Johns), 1962 andExpress; 1963; again, neither of which have been shown in this country before.
At the weekends and on Thursday evenings, the ‘Bride’s’ domain will be animated by Cunningham performances; staged in association with The London Contemporary Dance School and The Richard Alston Dance Company. Often considered the dance versions of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’ these performances will be made up of sections taken from repertory pieces drawn from collaborations with Duchamp, Johns, Cage and Rauschenberg. A mixture of solos, duets and smaller group work, chance procedures will determine exactly which choreography will happen when, which way it will face, and how often it will appear on a given day. The dance component of the exhibition is curated by former Merce Cunningham Dance Company dancer and rehearsal assistant Jeannie Steele and presented in association with The Place, with the kind assistance of Richard Alston Dance Company and London Contemporary Dance School.
On the upper level, further sections include those devoted to chess, chance, the ‘readymade’, and Rauschenberg’s Tantric Geography, a stage set designed for Cunningham’s Travelogue, 1977 that evokes Duchamp’s Bicycle Wheel, 1964 replica of 1913 original. Further highlights include: Duchamp’s Fountain (1950 replica of 1917 original) and With Hidden Noise, 1916 shown alongside Johns’ seminal Painted Bronze (Ale Cans), 1960 and Rauschenberg’s Music Box, c.1953.
Special ticketed dance events taking place in the gallery setting include Cunningham’s RainForest, 1968, presented by Rambert Dance Company and Richard Alston Dance Company performing mixed pieces of his repertoire. Both are followed by a Q&A with Mark Baldwin and Richard Alston respectively.