Trisha Brown: Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover, Massachusetts

Article excerpt

Few, if any, exhibitions during the past year were so beautifully conceived and installed as the retrospective of Trisha Brown's work at the Addison Gallery of American Art--an achievement all the more impressive when considering the sheer diversity of production the show navigates. A dancer and choreographer who met Simone Forti and Yvonne Rainer in 1960 while studying in California, Brown heeded their encouragement to move to New York, where she would soon perform at Judson Church, engage the community around John Cage, and immerse herself in the collaborative culture of Happenings that was drawing freely from the techniques of dance, performance, and the plastic arts, making the borders between them permeable. And so "Trisha Brown: Dance and Art in Dialogue, 1961-2001" (curated by Hendel Teicher, the show was co-organized by the Addison and Skidmore College's Tang Teaching Museum and Art Gallery and is currently installed at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York) by necessity encompasses video and photographic documentation of performances; costumes and set designs; prints, paintings, and sculpture by artist collaborators like Nancy Graves, Donald Judd, Robert Rauschenberg, Robert Whitman, and Terry Winters; and original dance scores penciled by Brown, which, in their minimal (and occasionally hieroglyphic) lyricism, qualify as significant works in themselves.

The most compelling quality of the Addison's installation resided in its integral reflection of Brown's own compositional style. If the choreographer developed the notion of "structured improvisation"--composing loose formal constructs from which performers could depart and extrapolate unique motions--then a similar ebb and flow of structural framework was discernible at the Addison in the interplay of images, objects, and the audiences moving in their midst. Among the first pieces encountered was a large construction originally designed by Brown for Floor of the Forest, 1970: a suspended grid of ropes laced with clothing that performers would attempt to don while hanging from the lattices by their hands and legs. Whether relic or mere remnant, this horizontal jungle gym dominated the gallery, so viewers moved around the space in unavoidable physical relation to it. Another gallery housed pieces designed by Rauschenberg for Astral Convertible, 1989--tall, erector set-like aluminum scaffolds affixed with naked bulbs that scatter intense white light across the room. During a performance, dancers were allowed to move these props freely onstage. And here, apparently arranged randomly throughout a large room, they created the unmistakable, if unusual, feeling that the viewer was engaged in a kind of dance through the gallery--indeed, art viewing could be usefully considered a type of ritualized motion--eliding, in effect, the distinction between sculptural and theatrical space. The most obvious (and intoxicating) instance of such an expanded conception of display occurred in the re-presentation of Opal Loop/Cloud Installation #72503, 1980, for which the artist Fujiko Nakaya used fog nozzles to create a thick vapor that enshrouded the dancers. …