In the 1960’s, the Judson Memorial Church (on Washington Square in New York) became a primary center of artistic experimentation and a major performance space for many artists in the downtown New York scene. The performances would interweave visual art, music, poetry, theater, and dance, and indeed expand the very notion of what might be considered a dance. Following from the work of seminal figures for the period such as the choreographers Anna Halprin and Merce Cunningham, artists Claes Oldenburg and Allan Kaprow, and composers John Cage and La Monte Young, many of the Judson dancers first came together in an experimental choreography class taught by composer Robert Dunn.
On July 6, 1962 associate minister Al Carmines offered the Judson Church to dancers Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Ruth Emerson, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Elaine Summers, among others, to present the collaborative “Concert of Dance #1” by the Judson Dance Theater. During the next two years, fifteen more “Concerts of Dance” would highlight some shared motives of the group: the refusal of dominant paradigms in Modern dance; the elimination of narrative from choreography; an analysis of the relation of performing bodies to the spectator’s gaze; and the embrace of everyday movement and objects.
When Jon Hendricks, activist artist and co-founder of the Guerilla Art Action Group, reopened the Judson Gallery in 1966, it emerged again as a site for radicalism and interdisciplinary collaboration. In 1970, it became a flashpoint in artists’ defense of free speech during opposition to the Vietnam War and the continued development of anti-racist, anti-colonial, feminist, and queer activism in the cultural sphere.
The exhibition offered a glimpse into the “Judson” which remains, even today, a major influence for contemporary dance and visual art. Through films, archival photographs, and ephemera, it attempts to document the various movements of bodies at the Judson. The question remains: how to exhibit work, much of it improvised and specific to its original performance, six decades later?
Olivier Bergesi and Andreas Petrossiants
Thanks for Julia Robinson for her special support