MCA Opens MERCE CUNNINGHAM: COMMON TIME Exhibit Review—Media Meets Merce

Editor's Note:  This review  below was the kick-off for extensive Picture This Post coverage of dance and music related to Merce Cunningham.  See also--

MCA Chicago Presents MERCE CUNNINGHAM: COMMON TIME February 11 - April 30, 2017
MERCE CUNNINGHAM: COMMON TIME captures the choroegrapher's 90-year life and influence on art.

Winding our way past the vigorous construction-in-progress at the Museum of Contemporary Art, we arrived at the anteroom to the MCA’s Merce Cunningham: Common Time exhibit to see Paige Cunningham already at work.

Paige Cunningham, a professor at Columbia College School of Dance and former member of Merce Cunningham's troupe, warming up before her demonstration that began the media tour and first unveiling of MERCE CUNNINGHAM: COMMON TIME

Dance Demo Opener in MCA Exhibit Lobby

With earphones on that perhaps let her hear a score—or perhaps helped her tune us out—Cunningham moved back and forth across her impromptu performance space doing and re-doing, seeming to be super self-critical of her every move.

A one-time member of the Merce Cunningham dance troupe—and not a daughter, wife or sister of her namesake—Paige Cunningham later gave us a short course on Merce Cunningham’s choreography trademarks. No small challenge to move torso, arm and legs smoothly and quickly but seeming independently! Some of these moves, we later learned, were ones that Cunningham first devised with the computer animation that he championed for composing choreography, considering the biomechanics of what dancers’ bodies could do more as afterthought.

Lynne Warren, Curator of MERCE CUNNINGHAM: COMMON TIME, introduces the concept of the show, describing the many artifacts from Cunningham's artistic collaborations that we were about to see

Museum of Contemporary Art Curator Introduces the Exhibit

Hooked, we then followed the curators from both the MCA and Minneapolis’ Walter Art Center that is concurrently hosting a companion and 3X larger Merce exhibit, into the museum displays.

Eye-catching Rauschenberg as you enter

A mélange of dots—a wall of them, and mannequins in abstract dot leotards that seem cut out from the canvass are the first things your eyes are drawn to. This is Summerspace décor and costumes by Robert Rauschenberg, the first in the Who’s Who of late 20th Century artists you learn were close collaborators with Merce Cunningham.

This list also includes: Andy Warhol; Frank Stella; Charles Atlas; Jasper Johns; Isamu Noguchi; Ernesto Neto, among others.

First among Cunningham’s collaborators was his partner in art and life, John Cage—and in this exhibit we get to see videos that capture some of their joint works.

The exhibit moniker “Common Time” references Cunningham’s pioneering collaborations with musicians and artists where he brought together artistic partners as equals, as opposed to the choreographer directing all aspects of a production.

Merce Cunningham Dance Company artistic director Jasper Johns asked Bruce Nauman to create this decor for a dance called "TREAD". Nauman put ten industrial fans between the dancers and the audience, blowing out toward the audience.
Brazilian born Ernesto Neto's decor for 2005 "Views on Stage", based on his work for the 2001 Venice Biennial. Music for this piece was composed by John Cage.
Robert Rauschenberg decor and costumes for "Interscape".
Andy Warhol's "Silver Clouds" decor for Rainforest, 1968, were accompanied by Jasper Johns costumes.

Props and Costumes Intrigue

You see what you think are set designs, and then learn they were props.

You see improbable costumes such as dresses made from parachutes (Rauschenberg) or garments with protruding wool tube bulges (Rei Kawakubo) and then learn what you suspect—



For this reviewer the pièce de résistance in this exhibit is Charles Atlas’ MC9, a nine-channel video installation that excerpts many of Cunningham’s works and interweaves it with movie opener countdown sequences and color blocks. You see Cunningham also, at various ages, dancing and making faces. This is Merce immersion en toto, more like a dream sequence that you can absorb. It’s not unlike the experience of living with any visual artists’ work over a longer period of time such that you intuitively come to understand their visual alphabet.


Charles Atlas began working with Merce Cunningham as a production assistant in 1974. This video work is Atlas' homage to Cunningham.

The MCA has much more in store to continue this stimulating focus on all things Cunningham, from dance performances to music and more. For a complete listing visit the Museum of Contemporary Art website.

Editor's Note: This review above was the kick-off for extensive Picture This Post coverage of dance and music related to Merce Cunningham. See also--

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