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MERCE CUNNINGHAM: DANCERS, ARTWORKS, AND PEOPLE IN THE GALLERIES

SINCE 1964, Merce Cunningham has been staging what he terms “Events”: productions that assemble fragments of dances from throughout his company’s historical repertory, repurposed for specific venues, from Grand Central Station to Persepolis. On the occasion of Cunningham’s continuing series of Events taking place at upstate New York’s Dia:Beacon—where his dancers and musicians have performed amid works by Nauman, Serra, and Warhol, among others—Artforum asked art historian Douglas Crimp to reflect on this newest offering from the choreographer, whose capacity for creating beauty even while challenging traditional modes of spectatorship has made him one of the foremost artists of the postwar era.

Merce Cunningham, fourth Beacon Event, 2008. Performance view, Dia:Beacon, Beacon, New York, July 5, 2008. Emma Desjardins. Photo: Anna Finke.

Each person is in the best seat.

John Cage, “2 Pages, 122 Words on Music and Dance,” 1957

THE MERCE CUNNINGHAM DANCE COMPANY’S third Beacon Event was dedicated to Robert Rauschenberg, who died less than a week before. Rauschenberg had been Cunningham’s regular set and costume designer and stage manager from 1954 to 1964, and during that period he designed some of the company’s most memorable productions, including Minutiae, 1954; Antic Meet and Summerspace, both 1958; Story, 1963 (a different set, constructed of material found on-site at the venue, for each performance); and Winterbranch, 1964. In one of a series of conversations with Jacqueline Lesschaeve collected in her 1985 book, The Dancer and the Dance, Cunningham spoke of the quality of Rauschenberg’s lighting (Rauschenberg had no training in lighting design): “When Bob Rauschenberg came with us on tour [in 1964], his

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