Push yourself beyond: “American Art 1961-2001”

Go beyond borders. When a limit is exceeded, we cross into a different territory, sometimes hostile, sometimes a potential ally. It can happen for an artist to surpass a boundary; to go further means to face other realities, and to change your point of view. Art is no longer alone in the work. The artist’s life, origins, and encounters become the work. As we can see in “American Art 1961-2001: The Walker Art Center Collections from Andy Warhol to Kara Walker” (Palazzo Strozzi, Florence) artists like John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg took a step forward: coming from different roads, they found themselves at the same intersection. And trusting each other, they did not stop.


by Bianca Magistrali. Cover image: Andy Warhol, Sixteen Jackies, 1964, acrylic, enamel on canvas, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis.

It is not by chance that Crossing Boundaries is the title chosen for the room housing these four artists – John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Jasper Johns, and Robert Rauschenberg – within the rich exhibition path of “American Art 1961-2001” at Palazzo Strozzi. Here, art, music, and visual arts come together to give life to revolutionary works, showcasing a new model of interaction between disciplines. A perfectly balanced union: Cunningham’s choreography mixed with stage installations by Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg, all wrapped in John Cage’s soundtracks.
Johns and Rauschenberg were not given any instructions. They had absolute freedom, except for one thing: to create something around and through which Cunningham dancers would be free to move and dance. In Rauschenberg’s works, the dancers merge with the installation, on the border between sculpture and painting. The need to bring everyday reality into the work, the same need that we find in Marcel Duchamp, is met through his Combines (1954), where three-dimensional, everyday objects acquire a new life.
Johns himself refers to Dada with a special tribute to Duchamp: for Walkaround Time (1968) by Cunningham, Johns devised transparent stage elements that reproduce images of Duchamp’s La mariée mise à nu par ses célibataires, même (The Large Glass) (1923). And it is thanks to Johns’ transparent installations that the relationship between dancers and artwork can exist. It is the freedom that Cunningham gives to the artists with whom he collaborates that identifies him; the installations were often finished before the choreography, underlining the artist’s vision that the arts should not depend on each other, but rather coexist at the same time.

Cunningham’s choreographies were totally independent from both the installations and from the soundtracks composed by John Cage.

The idea was to create two independent performances, occurring at the same time and in the same place. In fact, Cunningham’s dance does not suit Cage, but rather confronts him. Cunningham was one of the first interdisciplinary and collaborative artists, one of the most successful models for the achievement of true intermedial art. Crossing Boundaries does not mean putting one’s art before someone else’s; it does not mean addiction, but rather the opposite. Being able to create a jigsaw puzzle, putting all the pieces together, with your eyes closed.

Bianca Magistrali is an undergraduate student in Fashion Styling & Creative Direction at Istituto Marangoni Firenze.

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