Visual + Performing Arts: A Courtship at the Museum

Visual + Performing Arts: A Courtship at the Museum

Dancing In An Empty Room | Diana Lemieux

As cousins, the visual and performing arts have mostly kept their distance from one another, only collaborating infrequently since the late 1960s / early 1970s when choreographers Trisha Brown and Twyla Tharp performed at the Whitney Museum and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Museums lost interest though, likely because dance – and other forms of live performance – weren’t “collectible”.


However, as discussed in a recent New York Times article, museums seem to be embracing the performing arts once again, especially dance – and their neglected cousin has finally been invited to join the party!

The Times article mentions that in 2010, artist Marina Abromavic helped revive the idea of the museum as performance space with her performance art piece “The Artist Is Present” at the Museum of Modern Art in NYC. The live work attracted 560,000 visitors to MoMA. The same year, postmodern choreographer Trisha Brown presented her work “Performance 11: On Line/Trisha Brown Dance Company” at the MoMA.

More recently, it seems that collaborations between museums and choreographers is quite the trend. Choreographer Sarah Michelson & the Whitney Museum of Art (2013), “Black Swan“ choreographer and Director of the Paris Opera Ballet, Benjamin Millepied & Los Angeles' Museum of Contemporary Art (2012), and Ralph Lemon & The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis (2014) and The Museum of Modern Art in NYC (2011). The list goes on. Conversely, artist Dustin Yellin is currently collaborating with NYC Ballet to exhibit his sculptural paintings at Lincoln Center this month.

It’s exciting to see curators incorporate live performances into their exhibitions. In fact, the new Whitney Museum (opening in May 2015) will have a dedicated performance space with sprung floors specifically made for dance artists.

As for the “collectability” issue, the Times says, “the economics of ‘acquiring’ an ephemeral performance work is something museums and artists are still negotiating”. Regardless, live performance, the event – the spectacle - the evanescent moment, will help build audiences for both the performing and visual arts and hopefully this trend of holding court together will continue.


Trisha Brown Dance Company. Sticks. 1973. Performed at The Museum of Modern Art, 2011.
© 2011 Yi-Chun Wu/The Museum of Modern Art

Okwui Okpokwasili in Ralph Lemon’s “Scaffold Room” at the Walker Art Center. Credit: Walker Art Center

Sarah Michelson at the Whitney Biennial in 2012. Credit: Paula Court

Ralph Lemon. Untitled. 2008. Performed at The Museum of Modern Art, 2011.
With Okwui Okpokwasili. © 2011 Yi-Chun Wu/The Museum of Modern Art
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