Commentary: Why museums are making dance a focal point of exhibitions

Helen Stoilas. The Art Newspaper, Issue 240, November 2012  "The exhibition as we know it is in a form of crisis," says the PS1 associate curator Jenny Schlenzka. She is one of several curators who are turning to performance, and specifically dance, to re-engage audiences in museums. Schlenzka lamented "how few people interact with the art" in galleries. She says that, while museum-going has become something of "an empty ritual", there is some "really interesting work coming out of the dance world [that] is relevant for the visual arts world".  Dance in museums is nothing new -- the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York has a long history of including dance in its programming -- but more and more museums are starting to treat the form as a focal point for exhibitions and collecting, rather than as a side project. The Philadelphia Museum of Art's contemporary art curator, Carlos Basualdo, says museum exhibitions are "moving from a static model to a dynamic model." Nonetheless, "the visual art world is still focused on the object, storing and preserving it. A dancer knows that his or her work disappears the very moment it appears. Whereas the visual art world has anxiety about that, dancers have a lot more acceptance," Schlenzka says. Performance and live art have been "somewhat neglected because of their ephemeral status", which makes it difficult to catalogue and historicise works, she says. Now, though, "there is a growing tendency to work with time-based activities, which has made people more attentive to the relationship between dance and art," Basualdo says. "We're living in times when the object is less important," Schlenzka says. "The museum is a place where these changes are being negotiated. The ephemeral is becoming much more important."


At a Florida museum, "not all art can be imprisoned in gold frames"

Carrie Seidman, Sarasota [FL] Herald-Tribune, 10/21/12

In the late 1940s, Arthur Everitt Austin, Jr. -- a man known affectionately throughout the world of art as "Chick" -- became the first director of the John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art. According to present-day staff, Austin, who died at age 56 in 1957, was an inspired choice who is still shaping the museum's agenda today. "Both Dwight and I idolize Chick for his vision," Matthew McLendon, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, says of himself and Dwight Currie, the museum's associate director of programming. "That is our guiding phrase every day: 'What would Chick have done?'" Austin was at times vilified for bringing modern art to the Ringling, and not only the kind of art that hangs on walls. He was equally committed to presenting contemporary performance art. "'Not all art can be imprisoned in gold frames,'" says Currie, quoting Austin's words. So what Chick would have done, McLendon and Currie feel sure, is to have the Ringling join a handful of museum around the country giving performance art new arenas for presentation. That is the impetus behind "New Stages: Narrative in Motion," part of the Art of Our Time initiative, which will showcase four movement-oriented narrative programs between January and March of 2013. "Why in museums?" asks Currie. "This is not work that will fill a Broadway house, or a Van Wezel. It's by the artist, one of a kind work and when they're gone, it's gone." How to define the eclectic performers in the lineup can be challenging, says Currie, but only if people limit themselves to old-school thinking. "People ask, 'Is it dance?' 'Is it theater?' 'Is it poetry?' That's what I like about the 'art of our time.' It doesn't need much explanation. It is the-art-of-our-time."


May I buy this dance? Nope, not yet! A pas de deux with the art world heats up.

Rozalia Jovanovic, The New York Observer's Gallerist NY blog, 10/23/12

In September, some 300 people packed a panel discussion on the rise of dance in the art world. About midway through, Ralph Lemon dropped a bomb: "I wait for the day when a museum acquires a dance." There is a precedent of sorts. In 2004, MoMA paid an undisclosed sum (said to be in the five figures) for a performance artwork called The Kiss by Tino Sehgal, a former dancer. It's not just the intellectual and philosophical challenges of museum spaces that are attracting dancers and choreographers. They are also drawn to the visibility and remuneration that the art world potentially offers. "They are tired of struggling and are trying to get a piece of the cake," said Jens Hoffmann, director of San Francisco's Wattis Institute for Contemporary Art. That cake won't necessarily be sliced up equally. According to Judy Hussie-Taylor, the director of Danspace Project, there is chatter in the dance community over whether museums are co-opting dance without fully understanding what it takes to support dancers. There's also concern that financial resources that now go directly to choreographers and dance organizations may be diverted to visual arts institutions. "Selling a dance performance as a work of art is an interesting proposition," she said, "primarily because it'd be great for choreographers to have the same kind of economic control of their work and its distribution [that visual artists have]." For young dancer and choreographer Jonah Bokaer, a graduate of Merce Cunningham's company, distribution is key. "To me, he said, "the question of sale is secondary to, how does this even continue?" He takes different iterations of a dance to different venues -- and increasingly, for him, those venues are museums. The videos and animations Bokaer creates for his choreography have been acquired by art collectors and public institutions. But he views them as ephemera and documentation, rather than as artworks. "My work is commissioned, produced, repeated, archived," he said. "But I remain a choreographer."


Commentary: A choreographer embraces museum's spur-of-the-moment viewers

Jetta Martin, Art Performance Now blog, 10/10/12

While many dance makers have embraced the idea of staging their work in non-traditional venues, I have presented work almost exclusively in the traditional theater setting. Yet, over the past few years, my choreography has been supported and encouraged by the Museum of the African Diaspora in San Francisco. This partnership has been a wonderful way to challenge myself as both a performer and choreographer. Usually, I choreograph pieces for a theater stage and I decide the form, length, and content. At the museum, each piece was commissioned for a specific purpose with a program or exhibit in mind. I conceived, shaped, and adjusted the pieces in consultation with the museum staff. I was initially intimidated by this, but have come to enjoy the freedom within the structure. My pieces have become more robust as a result. The single most valuable outcome of these experiences has been increased and varied exposure for my work. I believe that performances in non-traditional spaces are vital to building new audiences and increasing interest in dance. After the shows, my dancers and I distributed surveys and had a Q&A panel with the audience. We found out that many of the attendees had not known about the shows in advance. Most were walking past or passing through the museum and were drawn into the piece. These spur of the moment viewers are of great interest to me as an artist. Many of them were from other states, even other countries. This audience could not have attended the same performance in a conventional setting because traditional theater does not encourage this type of spontaneous viewing. I think the kind of exposure that dance can have in spaces where people are allowed to enter and exit, to experience and share, to view with a different lens, are all situations that can help our art form grow and evolve.


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Call for submissions for a special issue of Dance Research Journal

From the website of the Congress on Research in Dance, 10/10/12

Historically not a new phenomenon, the resurgence of dance in museums over the past few years does beg a series of questions. [An upcoming] issue of DRJ dedicated to "Dance in the Museum" seeks to explore the following: What do we await from dance with/in the museum? Is there, has there ever been such a thing as a museum-dance? Is there a "visual art dance" - just as one talks about "visual art performance"? How do dance and the museum "communicate," and influence each other? How do museums collect, acquire, archive, transmit and display dance? Are museums that hold dance pieces in their collections (as scores, for instance), also responsible for training dancers fit to perform them? What are the ramifications of this situation for dance, visual art, and the museum itself? What, and where, are the historical precedents for this collaboration? What are the choreographic implications? And, once visual arts enter into the economy of dance, what are the implications in regard to dance's objecthood - its preservation, its materiality, and its futurity? Final deadline for submissions: June 30, 2013 Approximate length: 6,000 words (not including notes and bibliography)

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