Taking a diverse look at Marcel Duchamp’s influence on artists around the globe, the Barbican in London is currently presenting The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns, following the artist’s influence on several modern masters in the fields of composition, choreography and the visual arts. Featuring around 90 works by Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, as well as choreographic work by Merce Cunningham and works by John Cage, the show takes great pleasure in crossing the disciplines of art, dance and music to reflect the multi-faceted work of these artists.
Another intriguing entry in a number of exhibitions and gallery shows examining the impact of the European avant-garde on the American art scene in the wake of the 1913 Armory show, the Barbican’s show presents a tightly focused perspective on the work, examining Duchamp’s influence on a small, intimately acquainted group of artists. John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns all became familiar with Duchamp early in their careers, and his approach to art and art-making had a lasting impression on each of them. The relationships that formed between these artists, compounded with Duchamp’s own legacy, mirrored the major shifts of the art world during the 1950s and 1960s, introducing new practices and insights into the creation of art. Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns found innovative and avant ways to merge art and life, taking inspiration from Duchamp’s “readymades.” Like Duchamp, these artists found new potentials in ordinary objects and the ordinary sounds and actions that make up our everyday lives.
The notion of “chance” is another of Duchamp’s themes that intrigued and informed these four artists. Appearing in the I-Ching-inspired musical compositions of Cage, which worked alongside Cunningham’s choreography, and also appeared in Rauschenberg’s lithographs, the inclusion of random inputs and inflections allowed these artists to explore beyond what they could themselves create, branching out into the interaction between the art process and the environment itself.
The exhibition is spread across two levels, fully utilizing the Barbican’s expansive exhibition space. Duchamp’s masterpieces are at the core of the show on the top floor, while below, visitors encounter his influence on the works of the four Americans. A mise-en-scene is created by artist Philippe Parreno, who staged the exhibition to allow a dynamic experience to unfold, inspired by Merce Cunningham’s choreography and the music of John Cage. Two Yamaha Disklavier pianos play live Cage scores while dancers’ feet can be heard hitting against the floor. Parreno also includes his own interpretation of Cage’s iconic score 4′ 33 in the exhibition’s soundscape.
Throughout the exhibition’s run, live dance events will take place on Thursday evenings and weekends, performed by students and graduates of the London Contemporary Dance School and dancers from the Richard Alston Dance Company. Other related events include stagings of Cunningham pieces by the Rambert Dance Company, and the Richard Alston Dance Company, each followed by Q&A sessions.
Illustrating the cross-pollinating influences these artists had on each other’s work, and the trans-atlantic dialogue that their works created, the current show at the Barbican offers a striking look at the development and output of some of the world’s first post-war masters of contemporary and conceptual art.
Exhibition Site: [Barbican]
“The Bride and the Bachelors: delighting in Duchamp” [The Guardian]
“The Bride and the Bachelors: Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg and Johns, Barbican – review”[London Evening Standard]
“The Bride & The Bachelors, at Barbican, review” [The Telegraph]
Video: Philippe Parreno on The Bride and the Bachelors at the Barbican [The Guardian]