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View of “Merce Cunningham: Common Time,” 2017. Background: Mark Lancaster, decor for Sounddance, 1975. Foreground: Jasper Johns, set elements from Walkaround Time, 1968. Photo: Gene Pittman.

Merce Cunningham

Walker Art Center

View of “Merce Cunningham: Common Time,” 2017. Background: Mark Lancaster, decor for Sounddance, 1975. Foreground: Jasper Johns, set elements from Walkaround Time, 1968. Photo: Gene Pittman.

MERCE CUNNINGHAM, one of the most celebrated and influential choreographers of the twentieth century, died at the age of ninety in 2009. In 2011, the Walker Art Center acquired his dance company’s collection of sets, costumes, and theatrical props, and in 2012, after a tour of farewell performances, the company was officially dismantled. Both the acquisition and the dissolution followed the scrupulous guidelines laid out in Cunningham’s groundbreaking eighty-nine-page Legacy Plan, which was publicly announced just weeks before his death. Keenly attuned to the paradoxes involved in preserving the fundamentally ephemeral medium of dance, Cunningham had been thinking archivally for decades, and in 1976 officially employed the assiduous David Vaughan to serve as an informal collator of ephemera such as programs, press clippings, and posters.

The amount of material amassed over the life

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