How does dance fit into the visual art world?
Performa is a performance art powerhouse, a festival that happens every two years in New York and which presents national and international artists. It is not only a platform that showcases artists but in many ways determines definitions of performance art. Founded by RoseLee Goldberg, author of the Performance Art book published by Thames & Hudson in their “World of Art” series, Performa -- like Goldberg’s books -- selects certain artists and productions, gives them stages and audiences, and makes visible the trends it deems most relevant and noteworthy.
On Monday, when Goldberg introduced the event “Why Dance in the Art World?,” co-presented by Performa and NYU Steinhardt, she began in a style akin to her writing: a list of notable names. There were people Goldberg considered dance celebrities in the audience (ballet dancers Wendy Whelan and David Hallberg) and the evening’s venue, Judson Memorial Church, which Goldberg described as “a place so profoundly part of our history.” Her use of “our” and “us” was a strange element throughout the evening given the range of perspectives included in the event.
There was an introduction by ballet historian Jennifer Homans, then presentations by three panelists Ralph Lemon, David Velasco, and Jenny Schlenzka. Each speaker approached the evening’s questions – “why dance in the art world?” -- in different ways: Homans named and described three historical moments, Lemon answered the question with three more questions, Velasco listed events he thought showed the intersection of dance and art, and Schlenzka reframed the question to be: “Why dance in the museum?” Her answer and Lemon’s questions were the most thought-provoking moments of the event, described in more detail here.
But what really puzzles me -- and has lingered for days since the event -- is the too-easy conflation of events today when choreographers and dancers are given opportunities to perform in galleries and museums (Sarah Michelson at the Whitney, Xavier Le Roy at the Fundació Antoni Tàpies) with artists and innovators who performed at Judson and elsewhere in the 1960s. The church became their stage because they were rejected from more known and respected venues such as the 92nd Street Y: Yvonne Rainer explains how they came to Judson in this interview with Sally Banes.
Today when a dance artist is given an opportunity to perform at NYC’s MoMA or in Documenta or at Performa, they are validated and brought into a sphere of discourse and recognition that is completely different from intersections of dance and art worlds 50 years ago. Back then it was the artists seeking out places to present their creations, looking for people to support their unusual ways of defining dance and art, and turning little-known venues into landmarks, like Judson Memorial Church. Today it seems that the art world and festivals like Performa are defining which choreographers deserve kudos.
Where is the conversation about the hierarchies of disciplines and economic structures today? One example: even though Tino Sehgal’s projects involve bodies and movement they are exhibited within visual arts settings, not as dance or choreographic creations. Why did the program for Monday’s event describe “a tidal wave of dance in the art world right now…”? To me there seems to be a circumscribed group of dance artists circulating with increasing mobility among a handful of players. I’m looking forward to a conversation that delves deeper into how certain spaces and interactions inflect and shift our understandings of both dance and art.
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