Nancy Dalva on Judson Dance Theater and Bruce Nauman

Bruce Nauman: Contrapposto Studies, i through vii, 2015–16, seven-channel video, continuous duration. Museum of Modern Art, New York. Courtesy Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.


As part of the Annual Guide to Galleries, Museums and Artists (A.i.A.’s August issue), we preview the 2018-19 season of museum exhibitions worldwide. In addition to offering their own top picks, our editors asked select artists, curators, and other experts to identify the shows they are looking forward to. Here, Nancy Dalva talks about Judson Dance Theater and Bruce Nauman.

“I’m looking forward to two overlapping shows at the Museum of Modern Art this fall, both of which have connections to Merce Cunningham.

“MoMA’s Judson Dance Theater exhibition surveys the work of the multidisciplinary collective that grew out of a composition class taught by Robert Dunn at Merce Cunningham’s studio. In addition to Yvonne Rainer, Simone Forti, and Trisha Brown, Judson’s original members included many performers—among them Steve Paxton, Valda Setterfield, David Gordon, Alex Hay, and Deborah Hay—who were associated with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company or were part of its extended circle.

“For these performers, as for so many others in the world of postmodern dance, Cunningham was the ground, the given, and the springboard. But rather than presenting works by a single choreographer—one who, despite the use of chance elements in his compositions, made dances that were set, rehearsed, and required virtuosic command of the form—Judson offered a negation of that structure by those best qualified to work within it.

“In MoMA’s survey of the work of Bruce Nauman, I’m most intrigued by the film and performance components. I also look forward to contextualizing within his larger oeuvre Nauman’s decor for Cunningham’s Tread (1970)—great noisy industrial fans placed in front of the dancing, commissioned during the years Jasper Johns was the Merce Cunningham Dance Company’s artistic adviser.

“At both exhibitions, I anticipate finding new correspondences among all these practitioners, each enhanced by the enlivening element of serendipity.”


“Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, Sept. 16, 2018–Feb. 3, 2019, and “Bruce Nauman: Disappearing Acts,” Museum of Modern Art and MoMA PS1, New York, Oct. 21, 2018–Mar. 17, 2019. 

NANCY DALVA is a dance writer and scholar-in-residence at the Merce Cunningham Trust, New York.