Shared Sensibilities: Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns

Robert Rauschenberg created the "parachute" costumes and other set pieces for Cunningham's "Antic Meet."

Sunday, October 23, 2011, 2:00 – 3:00 PM
Henry Auditorium
FREE for Students and Henry Members | $5 General Audience. Advance tickets recommended.

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Between 1953 and 1980, the visual artists Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns frequently designed décor, costumes, and even lighting for the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. This lecture will examine the sensibility shared by all three artists. Merce Cunningham began his professional career in dance as a member of Martha Graham’s legendary company. But by l953, when he first formed his own company, Cunningham had eliminated virtually every vestige of Graham’s influence from his own dancing and choreography. Significantly, 1953 was also the year in which Robert Rauschenberg created his Erased DeKooning Drawing, a work which –both literally and figuratively – declared his independence from the ethos of abstract expressionism. This lecture will argue that Cunningham’s repudiation of Martha Graham’s approach to choreography is paralleled in precise ways by Johns’ and Rauschenberg’s repudiation of painters like DeKooning, Pollock and the other great abstract expressionists. Collectively, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns (along with John Cage), spearheaded one of the great paradigm shifts in 20th century art: a transition away from the “hot,” anguished, personal energies of abstract expressionism toward the cooler, brainer, more impersonal aesthetic that would eventually manifest itself in minimalism and conceptualism.

Roger Copeland is Professor of Theater and Dance at Oberlin College. He is co-editor of the widely-used anthology What is Dance? and author of Merce Cunningham: The Modernizing of Modern Dance.