The Philadelphia Museum of Dance (PMD) was a dance performance project presented at the Barnes Foundation by Drexel University’s Westphal College of Media Arts & Design through a generous grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. This publication is a reflection and documentation of that event, which itself was a culmination of two previous and related projects: Dancing Dialogues (an introductory residency with Boris Charmatz in Philadelphia in 2016) and a co-presentation of Charmatz’s manger with the 2018 FringeArts Festival.
One central goal of the Philadelphia Museum of Dance was to create an opportunity for audiences in Philadelphia to experience an “exhibit” of dance in the context of a museum, which would stimulate thinking about how live dance performance is essentially a visual exhibition with a temporal element, and how it deserves the gravitas which visiting exhibitions of painting or sculpture receive. Hence both this digital as well as a hard copy catalogue were produced to fulfill this parity. This comparison is not without its detractions, of course. Analogizing the moving body with art objects on display can lead to the objectification of the human form, a criticism which is rarely leveled at performance in a theater, but is no less present in that context. Is not the body an artifact of human experience, and therefore a valid object for artistic exploration and examination? Surely this should not disqualify dance from taking its place as a respected art form for public display, as the distinctions between performance and exhibition become blurred in contemporary practice.
As with any temporary museum exhibition, the PMD had an organizing theme. The subtitle of the event, “Choreographing Public Assembly,” was a term coined by the central artist of the event, Boris Charmatz. His work often approaches this concept by developing large durational works in open spaces such as public squares, which include both professional performers and the audience as participant. At the time of this project, the idea of public gathering was colored by the highly volatile political atmosphere in both Europe and the United States.The idea that many individuals could gather to express highly personal concerns through public assembly fostered a sub-theme of the tension between public and private lives. This is a common thread in Charmatz’ work including manger, the preview event for this exhibition, and danse de nuit, the concluding work presented at the end of the six-hour Philadelphia Musuem of Dance.
A second goal of the Philadelphia Museum of Dance was to challenge audience members/participants to curate their own experiences. While there was a linear dramaturgy to the event, i.e. a schedule of performances in order, there was also more than one performance happening in every time slot allowing each viewer to see many “exhibitions” for a short period of time or to linger with one particularly compelling performance for its full duration. Several events repeated allowing attendees to recommend a performance to someone who had missed it, or to return themselves. Some of the repetitions were in different locations so viewers could see the same work both outside and inside museum spaces, and the curated film series repeated on the hour throughout the event. Audience members could watch performances, join in the participatory events, or do a combination of moving and observing.
The essays in this catalogue reflect multiple viewpoints on the PMD event. Under “Reflecting” is an artistic statement by Boris Charmatz, framing and expanding the theme and origins of the event. The following two essays address the Barnes as a location and framing context for the exhibition. The first, by Cindy Kang curator at the Barnes Foundation, details the history of the Barnes' intersection with performance. The second, by Judy Hussie-Taylor executive director of Danspace and Thinking Partner to the curatorial team of this event, offers a more personal response to the event and her history with the Barnes Foundation as a native Philadelphian. The final two essays of this catalogue look at the theme of the event: The first, by myself, through the lens of audience experience, and the second, by Terry Fox Film Series Curator, through the assembly of films and videos. Like an audience member of the Philadelphia Museum of Dance, this catalogue, complimented by the vivid photography of JJ Tiziou, and in the moment videos by Edward Dormer, allows the viewer multiple entry points to reflect on dance as an opportunity to observe, participate, and reflect about public assembly and our public and private experiences with it.
Miriam Giguere, PhD
Project Director, Philadelphia Museum of Dance