Dancing around the Bride and the Cage Centenary

Arts / Article

By Jaime Bramble Schell, Philadelphia Museum of Art

While Dancing around the Bride: Cage, Cunningham, Johns, Rauschenberg, and Duchamp doesn’t officially open until October 30 at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, September 5 is also key date for the much-anticipated exhibition. It is the 100th anniversary of the birth of John Cage (American, 1912-1992), an artist whose art and life were inextricably interwoven with the four other avant-garde artists whose interactions and collaborations in the 1950s and 1960s exerted a powerful and lasting impact on future generations.

James Klosty (American, born 1943). Merce Cunningham and John Cage in Westbeth, 1972. © James Klosty

Cage, often regarded as one of the most influential artists of the last century, was a pioneer in electronic music, indeterminate (or chance-based) music, and a key figure in the emergence of Fluxus and Happenings in the visual arts. A tireless innovator, he invented the “prepared piano” by inserting miscellaneous objects on the strings and hammers of his piano, taking the instrument into a completely new sound world. Throughout his career, Cage surprised audiences by expanding the very idea of what a musical experience could be.  With 4’33”, perhaps his most infamous piece, the performer remains silent for the duration of the performance, creating a sonic environment in which composer-intended sounds are replaced by the unassuming beauty of the concert hall’s ambient noises.

To mark the centenary, the work and legacy of John Cage is being celebrated in festivals all over the world, from London to Sydney. Philadelphia will be no exception: in conjunction with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Bowerbird will present Beyond Silence: The Music of John Cage, a festival celebrating his radical output, at the time of Dancing around the Bride. Events will take place in the Museum galleries and throughout the city. One of these events will be presented as part of Art After 5, the Museum’s Friday evening concert series.

Cage is no stranger to Philadelphia Museum of Art audiences. In the summer of 1995, three years after his death, we presented Rolywholyover: A Circus for Museum by John Cage. It was one of the last large-scale projects that he conceived, a constantly changing array of art, performances, film screenings, readings, and programs. Much of the show’s installation was randomly determined by computer, and rearranged daily so that viewers could never have the same experience twice. It broke with tradition, just like Cage did. So, too, will the installation of Dancing around the Bride, conceived collaboratively with contemporary artist Philippe Parreno, whose past works include one created in direct homage to both Cage and Rauschenberg.

Dancing around the Bride will be the first exhibition to chart the catalytic effect of the five artists together, via paintings, sculptures, stage sets, musical notations, choreographic notes, performance, and programming. While their activity across artistic disciplines ignited the art world 50 years ago, the exhibition brings this critical moment back to life, representing the performative context for which the well-known works of visual art were created.. And the timing couldn’t be more appropriate—not only is 2012 Cage’s centenary, it is also the 125th anniversary of Duchamp’s birth and the centenary of his celebrated 1912 paintings Bride and Nude Descending a Staircase, no. 2, featured prominently in the exhibition.

Cage was fascinated by Duchamp long before they met. They were fellow travelers in a way, each intrigued by the relationship of chance to art and life. In this spirit, we invite the public to engage in the moment and take away from the show whatever they ‘chance’ to discover.