Another Storm Disrupts Philadelphia Museum of Art

The avant garde composer John Cage,  nervously kinetic  choreographer Merce Cunningham and equally disruptive visual artists Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Marcel Duchamp must have been smiling down on the Philadelphia Museum of Art yesterday.

 In their collective heydays (from the late 1940s forward), this gang of five  sparked storms of controversy with  collaborative  mash ups of sight and sound  media and theories of creativity.  They  delighted in real world objects and in happenstance, in leaving lots to chance in the artistic process.

  Yesterday, our  Museum of Art opened the “Dancing Around the Bride” exhibit which likewise underscores these creators' visions and artistic cohabitation in an equally bold, art-meets-technology fashion. But we’re guessing that other, life-altering storm kept most art lovers away.

In truth, the “happening” nature of this multi-media event  will best be experienced on Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons, as the exhibit carries on through January 21. That’s when former members of Merce Cunningham’s dance troupe will be performing on a stage in the Dorrance Galleries to music by Cage and kindred spirits, surrounded by visuals from the pioneering Duchamp  and his disciples. 

As previewed last week, dancers wiggle hands and feet in an eccentric style that suggests modern industrial machinery while Cage’s irratic bleeps and blunks dart hither and yon through a 70+ channel sound installation. On occasion, Cage’s  more tunefully structured pieces play through a self-propelled Yamaha Disklavier player piano, as  pre-programmed by Margaret Leng Tan.

 Lights and motorized window shades also  rise and fall to change our visual focus  in a fashion that “mise en scene” (exhibit orchestrator)  Philippe Parreno says is both intentional (to draw connections between the art work and music) and somewhat random – because that’s what so much of creativity is all about.  

This Sunday afternoon’s pile-on (with shows at 1 & 3 p.m.) should prove especially dynamic. Philadelphia’s Network for New Music will also be in the performance mix, accompanying the dancers with sections  from Cage’s “Concert for Piano and Orchestra.”

If you like what you hear,  a  smartly coordinated city-wide  “Cage: Beyond Silence” music festival is now underway, too.