Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done

Didier Morelli
Museum of Modern Art, New York
September 16, 2018–February 3, 2019
Installation view, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, 2018-2019.
Photo: Peter Butler, © 2018 The Museum of Modern Art
Museum of Modern Art, New York
September 16, 2018–February 3, 2019
[En anglais]

There was something spectacular and deeply moving in watching Yvonne Rainer and Simone Forti perform iconic choreographies of their own repertoire during the opening of Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done at the Museum of Modern Art. Both in their early 80s, the artists received ovations from the crowd gathered to witness a piece of experimental dance history, a monument of New York City’s downtown avant-garde. Surrounded by an exhibition that traces the contours of Judson Dance Theatre—through film, photography, sculptural objects, musical scores, poetry, and other archival materials—the performances brought to life a short yet vibrant and critical cultural moment. Carefully overseeing the execution of their works in the exhibition by contributing to its texture through their own presence, Rainer and Forti’s movements alongside past and present generations of dancers/performers foregrounded the relevance of the exhibition, confirming that in fact the work is [still not] done.

Within four thoroughly filled yet carefully designed galleries dedicated to the exhibition, the impact of the Judson Dance Theater is made clear as it relates to broader art canons. Curated by Ana Janevski (Curator), Thomas J. Lax (Associate Curator), and Martha Joseph (Curatorial Assistant) from the Department of Media and Performance Art, Judson Dance Theatrer: The Work Is Never Doneeffectively combines rigorous archival research with the demands of revenue-generating exhibitions. Focusing on a collective of artists who during a brief period created solo and collaborative works in and around the Judson Memorial Church, the exhibition elevates the experiential significance of viewing historical performance work in a live contemporary context. Subdivided into three sections—Workshops, Downtown, and Sanctuary—the curatorial narrative highlights the arc in which participants stripped dance of its theatrical conventions and redefined the parameters of movement for future generations. In doing so, it draws attention to the pedagogy and ecosystem generated by Anna and Lawrence Halprin in California; spatializes Judson as a Downtown phenomenon which came about in conjunction with the revolutionary Reuben Gallery; and celebrates the presence of countless seminal visual artists who took part in the collective (Carolee Schneemann, Robert Rauschenberg, Philip Corner). It also demonstrates how the group incorporated quotidian gestures by basing scores on games, simple tasks, and social dances. Adopting a process-driven, environment-conscious, intermedia-savvy, and improvisational group dynamic, the activities of the Judson Dance Theater “sanctuary” revolutionized both the performing and visual arts.

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