Dance and the Museum: Yvonne Rainer Responds

1) What are the most potent questions/ ideas prompted by the recent coming together of dance and the visual arts?

Ethics and economics, to begin with. When my work is performed in a dance venue by another dance company, I am paid royalties. Why do the art museums not conform to this standard? They pay performers but not the originators of the work they are presenting. True, if a gallery or artist lends a painting to a museum exhibition, they do not expect to be paid a loan fee. But the value of the painting is taken for granted by all parties, and the attendant exposure guarantees future value. So a question arises with regard to choreography in the museum: Does the exposure of a given piece of choreography in the museum increase the potential for future commissions or presentations of that work comparable to the increased value of, say, a painting? Another issue is the physical conditions of the choreographic presentation, namely, the nature of the floor, which is so crucial to a dancer's safety and health. Museums and galleries do not usually provide a sprung floor, which normally affords a protective rebound for a dancer's movement.


2) What are the responsibilities and/ or challenges that accompany this interaction? For artists? Curators? Critics or scholars? Institutions?

As dance artists, we are so flattered to be included in the art world that we relate to invitations as a gift devoid of economic necessity. I think we should stop being so flattered and start making more demands. Although I can't for the life of me remember whether or not I was paid to perform at the Whitney Museum in 1970 and 1971, an important consideration at that time was that the museum provided ample space and technical help free of charge. I didn't have to rent a theater. That's probably still true.


3) As artists, audiences, and institutions with varied artistic backgrounds come together, on what grounds is it or is it not important to consider disciplinary/ generic boundaries?

As for "disciplinary/generic boundaries", that very much depends on the particular work. Spatially, much of my work requires the audience to be seated in the traditional configuration of a proscenium theater, such as "Trio A", which is most decidedly frontal in its orientation to the spectators and cannot be presented in a casual manner with museum goers wandering in and out or through, as one curator requested several years ago. Which brings up another complaint:  Curators whose expertise in dance history does not match that of their art pedagogy. But hopefully, that will change.  

Yvonne Rainer, a co-founding member of the Judson Dance Theater in 1962, made a transition to filmmaking following a 15-year career as a choreographer/dancer (1960-1975). After making seven experimental feature films-- "Lives of Performers" (1972), "Privilege" (1990), and "MURDER and murder" (1996), among others--she returned to dance in 2000 via a commission from the Baryshnikov Dance Foundation for the White Oak Dance Project ("After Many a Summer Dies the Swan"). Her dances since then include "RoS Indexical", "Spiraling Down", "Assisted LIving: Good Sports 2", and "Assisted Living: Do you have any money?" She has received two Guggenheim Fellowships, two Rockefeller Fellowships, a Wexner Prize, and a MacArthur Fellowship. A memoir-- "Feelings Are Facts: a Life" -- was published by MIT Press in 2006 and a collection of her poetry —"Poems" -- was published by Paul Chan's Badlands Unlimited in 2011.

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boundaries, Dance and the Museum, economics, ethics, genre, gift, history, Judson Church, proscenium theater, The Whitney Museum, venue, Yvonne Rainer


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