Dance in Museums
Choreographer William Forsythe has long kept a toe in the art world. He’s exhibited at the Louvre, Tate Modern, MoMA, and Venice and Whitney biennials, and now has a major show at Frankfurt’s Museum of Modern Art.
Forsythe calls his installations “choreographic objects” or “choreographic situations.” Visitors, drawn to investigate movement ideas, might ricochet inside an enormous bouncy castle, thread among 60 erratically swinging pendulums, or climb (avoiding the floor) through a passageway hung with gymnastics rings. “With choreography, the audience sits still and ideas are moved in front of them,” Forsythe told the New York Times recently. “In this case, the audience circulates among the ideas.”
Dance pops up frequently in museums these days, and not just as “public programs” or with crossover artists like Forsythe. Increasingly, museums are interested in choreographers as artists and in dances as works of art. This mirrors 21st-century shifts in museums. Contemporary artists and artworks often defy categorization, so the distinctions museums once treasured are being consciously blurred: painting versus photography, high versus low, fine arts versus performing arts. Performance art’s meteoric rise has also spurred many institutions to stretch their missions to include live art. And adapting to the digital era, museums now seek to provide interactive, immersive experiences.
I’ve watched this decade-long shift with interest, and mixed feelings. (Thorny questions arise, worth grappling with: are dancers the medium, or artists in their own right?) Mostly, I’m thrilled to see dance gaining cultural visibility and dancemakers receiving recognition, career opportunities, and paychecks.
But there can be a whiff of condescension, or appropriation, about this transaction too, in which the rich and powerful art world selects certain dance artists to anoint and weave into its own history.
Dance and art histories certainly intertwine (think Cunningham and Rauschenberg, Graham and Noguchi). But dance—uncollectable, unbuyable dance, an investment that cannot be sold at Sotheby’s or hung on a boardroom wall and never appreciates—is not just a type of performance art. Dance is dance. It has its own history and intellectual and formal trajectory. Dance has always been important, on its own terms.
Forsythe’s “choreographic objects” seem to sidestep such tensions elegantly. Yet I think dance in museums, in all its forms, is here to stay—and I’m fascinated to see what the next decade brings. —Tamsin Nutter
DSL associate editor Tamsin Nutter lives in Berkeley, California. A former MoMA marketing writer, she trained at Vassar College and The Ailey School and danced in NYC with Regina Nejman & Company and others.
I was asked if I wanted to write a farewell or slip quietly into the sunset upon resigning as associate editor. I love sunsets, but I have also loved my job at Dance Studio Life magazine.
I’ve worked with some writers whose clear thinking, craft, and beautifully turned phrases made me feel honored to be entrusted with their prose, needing merely to nudge an idea or smooth a ruffled bit of syntax. I’ve edited and written stories about people whose work is transforming the world of dance and the world at large; whose generosity and commitment are motivated by a pure imperative of the soul—to do what needs to be done.
I’ve also come to understand the depth of love you, our readers, have for dance, for teaching, for your students. And I’ve seen the talent and devotion you bring to the mission of dance education. My head spins at the number of workshops and retreats and conferences you attend, the volume of articles you read, the constant exchange of ideas on social media.
I’m not going to say that there weren’t days I almost wept into the 500th bowl of soup eaten at my desk, and wondered while fact-checking if anyone cared whether Diaghilev died in Venice or Vienna. But I feel privileged to have worked with the kind, smart, and talented team at DSL and the Rhee Gold Company. With Rhee at its helm, this magazine was born of love of dance and commitment to excellence, and it continues to be driven by both.
“Inspired” may be an overused word, but I’m leaving to work on my own writing and other projects with a purpose and dedication that I observed at close range at Dance Studio Life. I leave inspired by my colleagues and—with permission to use the phrase one last time—our readers. —Lisa Okuhn
DSL associate editor Lisa Okuhn is a writer and a former dancer with Laura Dean Dancers and Musicians, ODC/Dance, and others. She founded arts-focused Okuhn Public Relations.