Walker Art Center Acquires Merce Cunningham Dance Company Collection
MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- The Walker Art Center and Cunningham Dance Foundation (CDF) announce the Walker’s acquisition of a comprehensive collection of artist-made set pieces, costumes, painted drops, and props, created for the internationally renowned Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC). Over the course of his nearly 70-year career, Merce Cunningham (1919-2009) redefined the visual and performing arts through pioneering collaborations with leading artists, designers, and musicians. More than 150 objects created by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, John Cage, and Frank Stella will arrive at the Walker this year and be displayed for the first time beginning in November 2011. The placement of these works at the Walker supports a key goal of CDF’s Legacy Plan—ensuring the preservation and ongoing accessibility of the Company’s singular collection of 20th century art.
The acquisition of major works from the MCDC collection aligns with the Walker’s cross-disciplinary collecting strategy and its mission to present contemporary art in a multidisciplinary context, in order to foster an understanding of the nexus between artistic disciplines. The acquisition marks a major landmark in both the museum and dance fields, making the Walker a new center for research and scholarship of Cunningham’s work, and presenting a new model for preserving works created by multiple artists in support of a single choreographer’s artistic vision.
“The acquisition of these works is groundbreaking for the Walker and for the museum field at large, affirming our longstanding commitment to bringing together diverse artistic practices to form a cross-disciplinary blend of programs,” said Walker Executive Director Olga Viso. “We enjoyed a lasting relationship with Cunningham beginning in the early 1960s and look forward to inspiring future generations with programs, exhibitions, and new scholarship devoted to his legacy of innovation and collaboration.”
The Walker will present its first installation of works from the collection in November 2011, in an exhibition focusing on Cunningham’s creative collaborations with major artists. This exhibition coincides with MCDC’s final engagement at the Walker, to be presented November 4 – 6, 2011, as part of the Company’s farewell Legacy Tour. The engagement continues a relationship that began in 1963, when MCDC was first presented by the Walker. The November performances will be the company’s first performance actually held inside the Walker (all past MCDC performances have been off-site or have been outdoors).The Walker will organize additional exhibitions exploring Cunningham’s collaborations with artists over the next three years.
“The Walker is one of MCDC’s most dedicated and longstanding partners, and the center’s unique commitment to both the visual and performing arts makes it the perfect steward for the company’s extraordinary collection,” said Trevor Carlson, Executive Director of the Cunningham Dance Foundation. “Similar to the placement of the Merce Cunningham Archives at the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in 2003, the Walker’s acquisition of this collection assures that this vital element of Merce Cunningham’s legacy is preserved for future generations to study and experience firsthand.”
The Walker is acquiring more than 150 objects dating back to 1942, when Cunningham began his distinguished 67-year career. During that time, Cunningham choreographed nearly 200 dances, most of which involved significant collaborations with leading visual artists who contributed unique set pieces and costumes. Notably, the collection contains Robert Rauschenberg’s combine Minutiae (1954/1976) and his costumes for Antic Meet (1958), Frank Stella’s set pieces for Scramble (1967), and the mylar pillows from Andy Warhol’s Silver Clouds installation used for RainForest (1968), as well as works created independently by John Cage, Cunningham’s life partner, that were ultimately incorporated into MCDC dances. The collection also includes set pieces and costumes created in the Company’s later years by a younger generation of artists, including Ernesto Neto and the fashion designer Rei Kawakubo.
The presentation of the MCDC collection at the Walker will be further enhanced by other objects from Cunningham’s career already in the Walker collection, including Jasper Johns’ set pieces for Cunningham’s Walkaround Time (1968) after Marcel Duchamp (purchased in 2000); the video installation by Molly Davies and Richard Weise showing David Tudor’s preparation of the electronic score for Cunningham’s Ocean (also purchased in 2000); Tacita Dean’s elegiac film installation Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances, six films) (purchased in 2010); and four ink drawings by Cunningham. In addition, the Walker’s collection contains pivotal works by Johns, Rauschenberg, Lichtenstein, Stella, and Warhol, positioning the Walker to link Cunningham’s work with that of his collaborators.
“The interplay of the visual and performing arts has a long and rich history, but few artists rival Cunningham in his sustained collaborations with leading figures of the 20th century,” said Walker Chief Curator Darsie Alexander. “With this acquisition, we acknowledge his tremendous contributions as a dancer and choreographer, while at the same time giving our audiences the opportunity to see the work of acclaimed artists—Rauschenberg, Johns, Lichtenstein, Stella—in a completely different light.”
To complement the acquisition and aid in ongoing scholarship, CDF will grant the Walker access to “Dance Capsules”—digital packages of archival materials which are being developed as another part of the Legacy Plan—pertaining to each of the dances represented in the MCDC collection. Each Dance Capsule contains complete documentation of a Cunningham work, including performance videos, sound recordings, lighting plots, décor images, costume design, Merce Cunningham’s choreographic notes, production notes, and interviews with dancers and artistic staff, and will serve as an invaluable supporting resource for Walker programming and the public.
The Walker’s relationship with Cunningham dates back to 1963, when MCDC first performed in Minneapolis. Since then, the Walker actively supported Cunningham’s work over 45 years through nine residencies, three commissions, an exhibition, and some 17 separate engagements, including three world premieres and two U.S. premieres. Highlights include the MCDC’s 1969 Walker residency, in which the company performed the iconoclastic Canfield; the 1998 exhibition Art Performs Life, exploring the work and life of Cunningham, Bill T. Jones, and Meredith Monk; Event for the Garden (1998), a special performance in front of Spoonbridge and Cherry by Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen to celebrate the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden’s 10th Anniversary, which incorporated dozens of Andy Warhol’s silver Mylar pillows floating in the air around the stage; and Cunningham’s monumental restaging of Ocean (2000), at the bottom of a Minnesota quarry.
As a longtime supporter of both the Walker and the Cunningham Dance Foundation, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation provided early critical funds to support the documentation and assessment of the inventory held by the MCDC, which greatly informed the Walker’s purchase. Most recently, The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation awarded a grant to underwrite the costs associated with the necessary transportation, storage, conservation assessment, cataloguing, and research for the Walker’s acquisition of the MCDC collection.
The acquisition is a gift of Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund, 2011.