“Intimate Collaborations”

View of “Dancing Around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp,” 2012–13, Philadelphia Museum of Art. From left: Robert Rauschenberg, set for Tantric Geography, 1977; Jasper Johns, set for Walkaround Time, 1968. Photo: Constance Mensh.

SEVERAL YEARS AGO, I tried to persuade the artist Barbara Kruger to participate in an event I was organizing at the University of Southern California called “Contemporary Conversations.” Seeking to move beyond the staid format of most academic conferences, the event featured a series of unscripted dialogues among artists, critics, and curators. Kruger was reluctant to participate, telling me she was more interested in “the moments between or before” conference presentations—the things said backstage, shared among the audience, or discussed at the reception afterward—than in the presentations themselves. I countered that there could be no moments “in between” unless there was a main event: We needed to stage a public conversation in order to provoke private exchanges and impromptu responses.

Kruger ultimately agreed to speak, but her hesitation stayed with me, even long

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