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A Moving Museum: The Merce Cunningham Collection

A dance is a lot more than just a lot of steps. Choreographers, dancers, composers, musicians, lighting designers, set designers, costumers, visual artists and others perform import roles, on stage and off, and add integral elements. All of these elements will be tied to the choreography, and a dance company’s collection will move with the dancers, quite literally.

Art in America notes that Merce Cunningham “choreographed some 200 dances, working with visual artists, designers and musicians over his 67-year career.” Merce Cunningham incorporated into his dances an impressive collection of “set pieces, costumes, painted backdrops and props created for the dance company by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, John Cage and Frank Stella.”

“[The collection] was a working piece of art, and its job wasn’t to be in a museum,” Trevor Carlson, the executive director of the Cunningham Dance Foundation, told the New York Times.

Following Merce Cunningham’s death in 2000, the Merce Cunningham Foundation’s Legacy Plan came into effect, and outlines the closing of the Company and the preservation of the dances. As part of the plan, the Cunningham Dance Foundation has agreed to transfer 150 of the art objects to the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis. The price of the acquisition has not been disclosed, although the proceeds will go towards administering the Cunningham Trust. The New York Times claims that “the agreement represents the most important transfer to date of works from a modern-dance company to a museum.”

“The first challenge — a huge one — was simply to figure out what the collection contained.” Selling this collection to a museum is one way of documenting its history and ensuring its preservation. The next challenge, according to Debra Levine, may be that “dance fans will have to traipse to Minneapolis to see [these] made-in-NYC seminal performing arts collaborations[.]”

Read the article at the New York Times and the Huffington Post