Walker Art Center Acquires Cunningham Dance Co. Collection


The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis has acquired the collection of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company (MCDC). The collection includes 150 objects dating back to 1942, among them set pieces, costumes, painted backdrops and props created for the dance company by such artists as Robert Rauschenberg, Jasper Johns, Andy Warhol, John Cage and Frank Stella.

A consummate collaborator, Cunningham (1919–2009) choreographed some 200 dances, working with visual artists, designers and musicians over his 67-year career. Included in the acquisition are Rauschenberg’s combine Minutiae (1954/1976) and his costumes for Antic Meet (1958), Stella’s set pieces for Scramble (1967) and Warhol’s Mylar pillows that were used in RainForest (1968), as well as more recent contributions by such figures as Ernesto Neto and fashion designer Rei Kawakubo.

The acquisition is a joint gift of Jay F. Ecklund, the Barnett and Annalee Newman Foundation, Agnes Gund, Russell Cowles and Josine Peters, the Hayes Fund of HRK Foundation, Marion Stroud Swingle, Kathleen Fluegel, Barbara G. Pine, and the T. B. Walker Acquisition Fund.

Beginning in November 2011, the Walker, which is known for its diverse multidisciplinary program, will present a series of exhibitions of MCDC works over the course of three years. The first will coincide with the dance company’s final performance at the center [Nov. 4–6].

The collection’s placement at the Walker helps fulfill Cunningham’s Legacy Plan, which he implemented in 2009, shortly before his death. Overseen by the Cunningham Dance Foundation, the plan also calls for the closure of the company after a two-year farewell tour and financial support for dancers, musicians and staff as they transition to other jobs. The tour will conclude at New York’s Park Avenue Armory on New Year’s Eve 2011.

Cunningham had a long relationship with the Walker, beginning with his company’s first performance there in 1963. Throughout his career, he undertook nine residencies, three commissions, an exhibition and 17 separate performances, including three world premieres.

The Walker already owns a number of MCDC objects, including Tacita Dean’s film installation Merce Cunningham performs STILLNESS (in three movements) to John Cage’s composition 4’33” with Trevor Carlson, New York City, 28 April 2007 (six performances, six films), which was his last collaboration.

The MCDC archive—films, photos, records and documentation of performances—was acquired by the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts in 2003.