Allow Me to Begin Again
Judson Dance Theater: The Work is Never Done (ed. Sarah Resnick)
Much has been written about Judson Dance Theater;1 yet the choreographers, composers, filmmakers, and artists who came together in the early 1960s at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square Park never wrote a definitive statement declaring their collective intentions. Unlike earlier groups of artists associated with Europe’s early-twentieth-century avant-gardes, the various makers who performed at the first Concert of Dance on July 6, 1962, had neither a unified aesthetic nor a political program, functioning without a designated leader. Their story is one of mutual refusal.
After being turned down from the annual Young Choreographer Concert at the 92nd Street YM-YWHA,2 three choreographers—Ruth Emerson, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer—and their teacher, Robert Ellis Dunn, auditioned late one afternoon for Al Carmines, a Protestant minister who had been recently appointed head of cultural programming at Judson Church. Carmines approved, and their first public performance was attended by more than three hundred people. Dance critic Jill Johnston, writing in the Village Voice, celebrated the fourteen choreographers and seventeen performers who participated in the “democratic evening of dance” and suggested that the “young talents . . . could make the present of modern dance more exciting than it’s been for twenty years.”3
Despite the historical terms in which Judson was heralded by critics, its protagonists were more self-effacing. In a press release issued several months after the July concert, an unsigned statement matter-of-factly telegraphed the group’s ambitions: “These concerts [were] initiated at the church . . . with the aim of periodically presenting the work of dancers, composers, and various non-dancers working with ideas related to dance. It is hoped that the contents of this series will not so much reflect a single point of view as convey a spirit of inquiry into the nature of new possibilities.”4 To collaborate, to inquire rather than take a position—such was the spirit of this interdisciplinary group of trained and amateur dancers who came together to experiment and show their work.
However, it was not long before the participants began to signal the group’s impending end.5 A consistent chronicler of the group’s work, Rainer wrote that following some “splinter concerts,” Judson participants began “to drop out . . . a natural outgrowth of particular aesthetic and social alignments that were both complicated and schism-making.”6 Robert Morris—a sculptor and performer, as well as Rainer’s partner at the time—reviewed a February 1966 concert featuring David Gordon, Paxton, and Rainer, noting that they were already re-presenting their own work. He self-consciously linked this recurrence to historic avant-gardes: “Every movement in art in this century has been characteristically brief. . . . In each of these movements . . . ‘open’ positions were very early closed out. What follows after the primary positions have been filled is, of course, tradition.”7 For Morris, Judson’s moment in the early 1960s was of historic consequence precisely because of its brevity.
Finitude is a funny kind of distinction, mostly because Judson never really ended. It never formally disbanded because it had never codified itself as an organization or described itself as a collective to begin with. Today the term Judson acts as a stand-in for some of the hallmarks of postmodern dance: the use of so-called ordinary movement, those gestures more common to everyday life than to dance studios, as well as composition strategies thought to favor spontaneity, such as allowing a situation, an environment, or a dancer’s interpretation of a set of instructions to determine a work’s structure and content. These tenets continue to inform much of contemporary dance as well as contemporary art. However, Judson is but one origin story for the belief in contemporary art and performance that mundane, everyday action and speech are meaningful and that art is made as much at the places where people gather as in the isolated space of a studio; that assembly and the disagreements that ensue are as much art’s means as its ends. And, like all origin stories, Judson’s legacy is hazy and contestable, despite the real effects it has had for artists and choreographers working in its wake.
If what today we call “Judson” began as a short-lived moment of creative inspiration in the early 1960s, what were the conditions that allowed this historical moment to emerge? Johnston—who, in addition to reviewing Judson concerts for the Voice, organized several events with the Judson artists and made lecture-performances— rallied against the force of origin narratives in a 1965 article aptly called “Untitled”: “There’s only one genealogy. It takes place in our dreams. Every specific genealogy is a fiction.”8 The essay you are reading, an introduction to the exhibition Judson Dance Theater: The Work Is Never Done, is one such fiction; it traces the workshops in which the ideas that would lead to Judson were developed and accounts for those forms of aesthetic and social experimentation that occurred simultaneously and in close proximity. This fiction, unlike earlier art-historical considerations, does not emphasize how the group influenced a generation of male Minimalist sculptors concerned with, for example, drawing analogies between the mass and gravitational pull of an art object and those of a human body.9 Rather, this introduction, much like the exhibition it accompanies, situates Judson in the late 1950s and early 1960s—in the workshop model that was part of the traveling culture that migrated from Europe to the United States during and after World War II; in the experiments in cross-medium collaboration that were reemerging in the visual arts, music, and poetry; and, finally, in the antagonisms and attachments that formed between a group of artists who would work together over a period of some years. Later, in the mid-1960s and ’70s, many of these figures would associate themselves with the second-wave feminist, anti–Vietnam War, gay and lesbian pride, and Black Power movements—aspirational efforts that differently claimed the intimacy of everyday life as a contestable political space, and which are still being struggled over in our time. (#MeToo and Black Lives Matter, to name just two of today’s most vibrant forms of contemporary political organizing, have demonstrated the ways that collective actions can respond to violations that occur behind closed doors or on the street.) By situating my genealogy in the period immediately before these broad social changes, I mean to ask: how did a subset of cultural practices, which would become formative for an overlapping group of artists, offer an opportunity to experiment with this fraught question of personal and collective identification that has so fueled the political gestures of subsequent social and artistic movements?
The workshop . . . was really a sort of utopian thing that had to fall apart.
—Robert Ellis Dunn
By using a rehearsal format for their weekly meetings, the Judson members implicitly recalled another set of workshops led by choreographer, dancer, and teacher Anna Halprin (then Ann) at her home in northern California. Halprin had trained as a dancer in Madison at the University of Wisconsin with Margaret H’Doubler, a former gym teacher, whose pedagogy focused on how the skeletal structure affects the body’s movement rather than on formal dance technique. Anna’s students, some of whom would go on to join Judson, gathered on the Dance Deck built by her husband, Lawrence, a landscape architect and former student of Bauhaus founding director Walter Gropius. The Halprins borrowed the workshop idea from Gropius, who as a teacher found workshops a valuable way to bring together artistic practices across disciplines.
Anna began teaching two-week workshops on her Dance Deck in the summer of 1954; in August 1960, eighteen participants, including Trisha Brown, Ruth Emerson, Forti, and Rainer, arrived for what would be a historically influential exchange. Anna used improvisation to explore each person’s capability for movement invention; she did not teach specific techniques or movement patterns.10 The workshops linked improvisation to observation, borrowing prompts from the immediate surroundings: ants scurrying along an anthill; water running in a creek; trees swaying or standing stalwart.11 Ecological phenomena were considered both social and aesthetic forms that could be witnessed and then imitated. Anna also used improvisation to repattern habitual bodily responses to choreographic input. She might, for example, show her students a limb on the model skeleton in her studio and then ask them to move as they paid attention to the effect of gravity on that part of the body.12 The simple tasks she assigned, such as running in a circle with a branch, encouraged her students to observe the particular kinesthetic shifts that transpired while handling various objects from nature.13
Anna’s workshops also hosted poets and musicians so that language and sound began to play an increasingly important role in their explorations. “We began to allow the voice to become an integral part of movement,” Halprin recalls, “where breathing became sound or some heightened feeling stimulated certain associative responses and a word came, or a sound, or a shout. Freeassociation became an important part of the work. We began to deal with ourselves as people, not dancers.”14 Forti, Rainer, and others who attended the workshop used their voice as an instrument, externalizing internal bodily functions like breathing or associative thinking by making them audible. They spoke aloud text plucked from dialogue they had overheard or had themselves participated in, leaving behind its narrative context. They vocalized emotion with nonlinguistic noises—sound fragments borrowed from animals or technological devices.
Composers La Monte Young and Terry Riley served as musical directors for Anna’s workshops from 1959 through 1960. As her collaborators, they became important channels for the dispersal of her ideas. On the first day of the 1960 workshop, Young presented his “Lecture 1960” on the Dance Deck over a threehour period. The lecture consisted of reflections on the activities of his artist friends and their use of sounds like clapping and chatter to make music, which he presented in a randomized order. He also premiered new textbased work, including the first of his Compositions 1960. These scores—or notations for performances—ask the performer to accomplish tasks at once mundane and whimsical, such as building a fire in front of an audience without standing between fire and audience, or turning a butterfly loose in the performance area and allowing it to fly away. The first example emphasizes that the performer is herself an observer, nearly indistinct from the audience; the second underscores the permeable boundary between the stage and the reality it constructs and by which it, too, is constructed. That summer, Young continued developing these works, combining instruction-based, quasiconceptual exercises while engaging with the natural world, a reformulation of Anna’s ethos.
Young’s presence pushed Anna’s workshops toward composer John Cage’s interest in chance operations, juxtaposing material drawn from wildly different parts of the observable world. When, back on the East Coast in fall 1960, Dunn—accompanist to Merce Cunningham, who was Cage’s artistic and life partner— announced a composition class in Cunningham’s dance studio, five students signed up, including Forti, Paxton, and Rainer;15 it was Cage, Dunn’s former teacher at the New School in New York, who had urged him to teach the course. Although Dunn was not a choreographer, he had taught percussion composition for dance accompaniment at Boston Conservatory under choreographer Mary Wigman. At the time, Robert was married to Judith Dunn, a Cunningham dancer who assisted and subsequently taught the class with her husband. The Dunns offered four courses between 1960 and 1962 and a fifth in 1964, each of which included ten to twelve sessions roughly two and a half hours in length. They charged twelve to fifteen dollars for the entire course, a fee that could be waived.
The Dunns’ class was informed by Cage’s interest in structure—the successive parts of a composition—and his emphasis on observation and discussion over evaluation. Robert often borrowed theologian Thomas Aquinas’s remark that “each angel is one of a species” to encourage students to focus on watching and describing their peers’ work rather than simply approving or disapproving of it.16 He brought in musical scores as prompts for various assignments, including the gnomic “Trois gymnopédies” by early-twentieth-century composer Erik Satie. Students were asked to make dances that corresponded to the number of measures in the music— its “time-structure” or “number structure”—without taking the melody or its affective qualities into account, ideas then associated with modern dance choreographers like Martha Graham and José Limón. The Dunns gave other assignments that used time-based structures, sometimes inscrutably: Make a five-minute dance in half an hour.17 Do something that’s nothing special.18 These koanlike instructions were part of Robert’s intention to make his class “a clearing,” or a “space of nothing,” and reflected the effect of Zen Buddhism on his teaching method, introduced to the Dunns, Cage, and others in their downtown cohort through the writings of teacher and monk Shunryū Suzuki.19
Indeterminacy, or the ability of a composition to be performed in substantially different ways, was likewise important in the Dunns’ workshops—again, due to the influence of Cage.20 The chance-based composition strategies Cage advocated generated incongruities deserving of slapstick antics—imagine, for example, juxtaposing “percussive” with “ankle,” as did one assignment that randomly combined movement qualities and body parts. Chance-based practices also encouraged the performers to de-emphasize artistic intent—a form of self-abnegation drawn from Zen Buddhism—eliciting unexpected forms of collaboration. For example, the Dunns sometimes asked the participants to score a movement sequence and pass the score to a partner, who would interpret both her own score and the one she was given, yielding four distinct phrases. These phrases would be further adapted by other members of the workshop.21 The variability in how a dance was interpreted suggested that the contribution of the interpreter was on a par with that of the author.
While the workshops encouraged participants to examine their preconceived notions of taste and to give up some authorial control, stylistic tendencies nevertheless emerged. Robert recalled a division between what he identified as two antagonistic traditions: architecture and camp.22 While Dunn himself aligned with the former, James Waring, who taught many of the same students in his composition classes at the Living Theatre in 1959 and 1960, was associated with camp—a coded, knowit-when-you-exhibit-it term that cultural critic Susan Sontag used in her influential 1964 essay to describe a “sensibility . . . of artifice and exaggeration . . . of failed seriousness.”23 Unlike Dunn, Waring spent years formally training as a dancer. He studied ballet at both San Francisco Ballet School and the School of American Ballet in New York and took classes with Anna Halprin at the Halprin-Lathrop studio in San Francisco with choreographer and teacher Welland Lathrop. “Everything changes all the time,”24 Waring frequently told his students. His theatrical compositions encompassed this sense of flux by juxtaposing various incongruous genres with one another, including vaudeville and classical ballet. They featured simultaneous, idiosyncratic events moving independently of each other. In a Village Voice review, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg described Waring’s 1958 Dances before the Wall as “rather like the parts of a snake or scorpion cut in pieces scattering in different directions, but all pieces of one life: uncanny.”25 Waring’s works were all-inclusive, combining costumes, music, and flyers he designed into his theatrical collages. Waring also included non-dancers in his work. As Rainer observed, “His company was full of misfits—they were too short or too fat or too uncoordinated or too mannered or too inexperienced by any other standards.”26
Waring’s classes at the Living Theatre, located at Fourteenth Street and Sixth Avenue, in the same building as Dunn’s, were fonts of interdisciplinary exchange.27 The group spent no small amount of time talking. Gordon, who regularly attended the classes, recalls how Waring’s evening classes “always began or ended with Jimmy sitting in a chair wearing a too big sweater, sniffling comments on what was going on around town.”28 The classes spilled over into his life and work. He invited several of his students to be in his work or to present their own at the Living Theatre, including Gordon, Gordon’s wife and Cunningham dancer Valda Setterfield, Rainer, Childs, Hay, and Fred Herko.29 This model of support was an extension of Dance Associates, the member organization he cofounded in 1951 (dubbing it “Dance Eclectics”) with dancer and archivist David Vaughan for their friends, including Edward Denby, Aileen Passloff, and Paul Taylor, to provide them with an annual performance venue. If Halprin offered improvisation as a tool to repattern trained bodily responses, and the Dunns—via Cage—offered scores and chance composition as alternative modes of authorship, Waring offered a form of mutual aid that brought dancers, theater folk, visual artists, and ordinary people into close proximity. In the classroom, students given the same assignments responded in unique ways. Both organizing and disorienting, these composition classes foregrounded environment and sensory experience as the primary source of artistic identity and collective attachment.
By summer 1962, the Dunns’ classes had grown so large that the end-of-semester performance was too big to fit in Cunningham’s loft. After the group was refused by the Young Choreographers Concert, Carmines agreed to host the group at Judson Memorial Church. Robert created a program for the first concert, encouraging the choreographers and dancers to adopt the same casual, unselfconscious sensibility in the church as they had in the loft: “The early concerts that we had at Judson had this wonderful feeling of space and of involvement with the audience because the dancers were not trying to mock up a . . . stage in a church. It was the area it was.”30
The ensemble: the social situation in which we find ourselves.
When Robert Dunn described the early concerts at Judson Memorial Church as having treated the church as the “area it was,” what did he mean by this? The church had long committed itself to nonreligious forms of support for congregants and community members alike through the Judson Clinic, founded in 1920 to serve Italian American immigrants in the tenements south of Washington Square, as well as the Student Co-op, which housed students from small towns in the South and Midwest.31 After World War II, the church’s leadership continued their engagement with the surrounding community: Robert (Bob) Spike, who became the church’s senior minister in 1949, opened up the building’s basketball court to public use and established Judson House, an interracial dormitory.32 Howard Moody, who became reverend in 1957, oversaw the Village Aid and Service Center, one of the first drug-treatment facilities that offered counseling and services to narcotics users in 1960. He defended folk singers, who had played informally at the church during Sunday gatherings since the 1940s, when they were banned from Washington Square Park by the parks commissioner in 1961. And, in 1967, he established the Clergy Consultation Service on Abortion, a network of ministers and rabbis to counsel and refer pregnant women to safe, low-cost abortion providers before the procedure was legalized. At Moody’s ordainment, his professor at Yale Divinity School Kenneth Underwood had summarized this social approach to theology when he invited his students “to remember that the fundamental symbol of Protestantism is not the pulpit, where ideas are delivered by a pastor . . . [but] a communion table.”33
As the church expanded its engagement with its constituency, its commitment to local artists grew too. In 1959, an associate minister, Bernard “Bud” Scott, invited several artists, including Marcus Ratliff (who was living at Judson House at the time), Tom Wesselmann, and Jim Dine, to turn the basement of Judson House into a one-thousand-square-foot studio and exhibition space—what would become the Judson Gallery. Artist Claes Oldenburg organized exhibitions and Happenings in the space from 1959 to 1960, while Allan Kaprow did the same from 1960 to 1962.34 When Carmines replaced Scott as the head of cultural programming in 1961, he founded Judson Poets’ Theater, an alternative to off-Broadway performance spaces, before welcoming Dunn’s workshop into the church. Carmines, who had studied at Union Theological Seminary in New York, was also a composer, actor, singer, and director and understood the parallels between the new arts and new theology. Acknowledging what the church had learned from Judson, he affirmed their mutual commitment to “the ensemble: the social situation in which we find ourselves.”35 For Carmines, it was the importance of the group that linked new dance to new theology.
If for new theology the emphasis on the ensemble was sited in worship, for the new dance the interest in the ensemble can be traced—at least as one example—to Forti and her 1960–61 Dance Constructions. On May 26 and 27, 1961, Forti presented Five Dance Constructions and Some Other Things at Yoko Ono’s loft at 112 Chambers Street in New York. The evenings were organized by Young and included Paxton, Rainer, and Morris, who manufactured the first sculptures used in the performances.36 Young, who had seen Forti perform a suite of dances the previous year as part of one of Kaprow’s Happenings at Reuben Gallery, asked Forti to expand on these dances for the concerts.37 The movements in each of Forti’s nine works were generated by manipulating and moving objects or by following a set of rules that frequently pushed the performers to their physical limits.38 Each work was shown in a distinct area of Ono’s loft, often more than one at a time, much like a group of sculptures that the audience could move around to view from all sides. Forti’s choice of materials—unadorned planks and hanging ropes—provided a material trace of the loft in which they were shown. And by titling her works Dance Constructions, Forti further joined movement with sculpture, a signal to her public that she was working across different mediums and that what she made should be interpreted according to the logic of this blurring.39
Forti’s concert made forceful, sometimes paradoxical claims about the heterogeneous character of social interaction. Rainer recalls, “The evening began with Herding. All of us performers herded the audience from one end of the huge loft to the other several times. This unusual relation to spectators seemed whimsical and good-natured in its unassuming demonstration of limited power. . . . No one protested.”40 While the performers entered the space as audience members dressed in street clothes, Forti quickly established who was in control. See Saw created a more intimate display of power and play. Morris and Rainer stood on opposite sides of a seesaw that they had assembled in real time by placing a long wooden plank on top of a sawhorse. When the work is restaged today, Forti asks that the two performers be selected in such a way that their pairing can “reflect domestic life.”41 As the performers stand on the plywood and try to maintain equilibrium, they inevitably shift up and down: a physical manifestation of the oscillations that occur between two friends, artistic collaborators, or lovers. Huddle, another work shown that night, bears its own social implications. The only “construction” that doesn’t exist in a solid sense, but that can be reconstituted at any time, Huddle consists of a group of six to nine people who bond together in a tight mass while standing, then take turns climbing over the top of their self-made structure. The work lasted ten minutes. Art historian Julia Bryan-Wilson has said Huddle calls to mind “a slow-motion depiction of teeming insects, like swarming bees, a fulminating energy knot that has been decelerated as if for the viewer to inspect it.”42 Like a herd, Forti’s Huddle evidenced the various ways people act when assembled into a group: cooperative, recalcitrant, animalistic.
While Forti’s Dance Constructions implied that social interactions are marked by power, activist and writer Jane Jacobs simultaneously developed a language to describe the tensions in the burgeoning and contested notion of “downtown” in US cities. In prose that unintentionally echoed the Judson artists’ juxtaposition of traditional form with pedestrian movement, Jacobs described what she called an “intricate sidewalk ballet” in her 1961 The Death and Life of Great American Cities. Calling sidewalks the art form of the city, she likened their use to a “dance—not to a simple-minded precision dance with everyone kicking up at the same time, twirling in unison and bowing off en masse, but to an intricate ballet in which the individual dancers and ensembles all have distinctive parts which miraculously reinforce each other and compose an orderly whole.”43 This vibrant celebration of Jacobs’s Hudson Street in the West Village was a poetic protest against contemporaneous forms of “progressive” city planning, most notoriously embodied by public official Robert Moses. Known as “the Highwayman,” Moses sought to turn the city into a dense web of highways. In the early 1950s, he proposed a plan to build a fortyeight-foot, four-lane road or tunnel through Washington Square Park directly in front of Judson Memorial Church.44 The plan would have made the sidewalks associated with the street culture of the city’s working poor and people of color inaccessible. Sidewalks were also, according to Jacobs, what made the city both creative and safe.45 In response to Moses’s proposal, Jacobs cofounded the Joint Emergency Committee to Close Washington Square Park to Traffic, an alliance of community groups and local families, to thwart Moses’s efforts. The group found success in 1963 when public buses were rerouted away from the park and pedestrians were given free reign over it.46 This decade-plus fight for public space occurred immediately in front of Judson Church; in their use of “pedestrian” techniques like walking and running, Judson choreographers were unwittingly inverting Jacob’s articulation of everyday movement as dance, turning a contested physical gesture into aesthetic form.
The forces of racial segregation that were gathering immediately outside of Judson Church and throughout the city informed the terms of social inclusion at Judson Dance Theater. Judson was predominantly made up of white artists, but black culture nevertheless persisted in its sanctuary. Reflecting on the early years of his collaboration with Judith Dunn at Judson and elsewhere, trumpet player and jazz composer Bill Dixon noted that although he was never treated rudely by the postmodern dance scene in New York, he did experience subliminal racism: “Something wasn’t right,” he reflected to scholar and dancer Danielle Goldman on his time at Judson. “Judson Church was a long five miles away from the work I was doing up at 91st street,” the site of his 1964 October Revolution in Jazz at the Cellar Café.47 While Dixon was one of the few figures of African descent in the milieu, black dance and music were not absent from Judson. Rainer, Forti, and Nancy Meehan—who had met at Martha Graham’s school—made improvisations together in 1960 while playing a solo piano record by Thelonious Monk and music by Miles Davis in a rented rehearsal space at Dance Players on Sixth Avenue.48 In addition to her reviews of downtown performances, Johnston celebrated choreographer Alvin Ailey’s masterpiece Revelations when it was performed in 1961.49 Closer to the Judson sphere, the Floating Bear—a mimeographed semimonthly “newsletter” of new poetry, art reviews, and gossip established in 1961 and sent by mail to a designated readership—was edited by the poets Diane di Prima and LeRoi Jones (who would change his name to Amiri Baraka in 1965, after Malcolm X’s assassination). Produced every other Sunday at Jones’s family’s Fourth Street apartment, it was an all-out collaboration: Waring typed, jazz composer Cecil Taylor ran the mimeograph machine, and Herko and di Prima collated the pages, with everyone pitching in to address the envelopes.50 Even if at the Judson Concerts of Dance there were few performers of color onstage, the behind-the-scenes work at adjacent sites of collective publication like the Floating Bear included a broader chorus of “everyday people.”51 Black people—or at least black men—participated in these new forms of communing and criticizing, but perhaps in such a way that elicited Dixon’s sense of estrangement.
The interracial, sexually frank writing published in Floating Bear made it both an object of state repression— in 1961, Jones was arrested by two postal inspectors and a federal agent for sending obscene materials through the mail—and a rag for some of the earliest and freshest critical writing around Judson Dance Theater. In di Prima’s review of the first Concert of Dance, she described Herko’s Like Most People, in which Herko performed inside a Mexican hammock with brightly colored stripes to Taylor’s “exciting playing on piano.”52 Two years later, Warhol star Gerard Malanga’s memorial poem to Herko would appear following the dancer’s suicide.53 In one particularly trenchant repartee between Waring and poet and essayist Diane Wakoski, he responded to her criticism that Rainer lacked originality because of the influence of Forti and Halprin on her work: “The idea of ‘originality’ as a criterion of value is a relatively modern one, and one which inevitably is doomed to fade again from fashion.”54 Waring understood that it was precisely Rainer’s continuous relation to her teachers and peers—their shared interest in compositions made from incommensurable associations and their mutual interest in rendering repetition as a value in itself—that made her dances vital and worthy of love. Social bonds induced gossip and shade; but they also were the font of the work.
The editors of the Floating Bear would extend the same discerning frankness to the writing they published elsewhere. Jones, for example, wrote about the work of his Floating Bear colleague Taylor among his various considerations of black avant-garde music, later collected in his volume Black Music (1967). In Taylor’s music, Jones found much to be supportive of. In his review of the 1962 album Into the Hot, Jones wrote that Taylor’s contributions “redemonstrate that the gifted jazz soloist, even the innovator, can function on a highly creative level in the context of formal composition.”55 He painted the musician as innovative improviser and constructivist composer, virtuoso soloist, and band leader, who was capable of building “a whole, integrated structure,” in which cacophony and dissonance proliferated. (Taylor’s social experiments in music extended beyond human sound to what he called “other musics”: the grass and trees, for example, on the other side of Boston’s railroad tracks where he studied at the New England Conservatory.56) And yet these affirmations were offset by Jones’s marked ambivalence, what poet and critic Fred Moten has described as “veiled and submerged distancings, critiques, outings.”57 Indeed, some of Jones’s prose included coded stereotypes about queer black men. He described Taylor’s use of the waltz “This Nearly Was Mine,” sung by a wealthy French planter living in Polynesia in the musical South Pacific by Rodgers and Hammerstein—who were consistently interested in portraying cross-racial sexual encounters—as “under ordinary circumstances . . . one of the most terrifyingly maudlin pop tunes of our time.”58 Jones’s description suggests that Taylor had managed to redeem himself from what in other circumstances was “mere” sentimentality. Elsewhere he celebrated Taylor as “always hotter, sassier and newer than” Third Stream music—a backhanded compliment, as this other synthesis of jazz and classical music had fallen out of Jones’s favor.59 (The sassy italics are Jones’s.) Sexuality, like race, was a coded key for inclusion.
Taylor and Jones are just two figures peripherally associated with Judson; but Jones’s criticism, while built out of mutual respect, is nevertheless symptomatic of conflicts that undergirded Judson’s overall reception—sexual identity among them. Art historian Michael Fried, in his disparaging assessment of Minimalist art, “Art and Objecthood,” expressed his own distance from queerness in his take on the larger Judson group. In the essay, Fried argues feverishly against Minimalist art’s theatricality—its emphasis on the spectator’s encounter—as well as what he calls its “literal biomorphism,” by which he means the way these art objects remind of him of real humans. Yet Fried makes his own slippery conflations between objects and people when he criticizes artworks of a “general and perversive condition” as “artificial,” “superfluous,” “hidden,” “degenerate,” “aggressive,” “corrupted or perverted by theater”— adjectives used to stereotype people who might have also been pejoratively called “queer” at the time.60 Fried ended up on the wrong side of art history, and while his essay is today something of a punching bag for art historians and critics, one can still trace the soul-shaking effects of the work he witnessed: repulsion is a lasting archive. Fried was a frequent visitor to Judson Dance Theater, which informed his take on the Minimalist art he wrote about; in his repressed discourse, he expressed his latent fear of the queer sexualities he first sensed in the makers and then projected onto their artworks.
In recoiling from the personal, extra-aesthetic dimensions of the work they were describing, both Jones and Fried were alluding to what Jill Johnston once referred to, in her description of the work of Lucinda Childs, her romantic partner in the mid-1960s, as “something outside the closed and completed work as a component within the work”—or, to put it another way, process.61 For the artists at Judson, process often pointed to the sweaty, knotted labor that making art necessitates. We see this in Morris’s Site, of 1964, in which the artist, wearing a white painter’s uniform and work gloves, a soundtrack of jackhammers in the background, reveals a nude Carolee Schneemann standing in for the sex worker Édouard Manet presented in his painting Olympia (1863). And we see it in Yvonne Rainer’s 1965 “Corridor Solo,” which would be recycled the same year in her Parts of Some Sextets, a dance about sleeping, in which ten dancers variously stack, unstack, and carry twelve store-bought mattresses as Rainer reads from her journals: “Those familiar beds. Those unfamiliar beds. Those one night beds. Those beds on the way somewhere in the night. How many sleepings like that?”62 In placing the middleof-the-night work it took to make art center stage, these artists were not only self-reflexively shoring up the material conditions of artistic production and aestheticizing a variety of kinds of labor; they were also putting the intimate flotsam and jetsam of their daily lives onstage as part of what it meant to make art. When Paxton and Rauschenberg, who were living together, tumbled in tandem and touched and carried each other in both Paxton’s 1964 Jag vil gärna telefonera (I Would Like to Make a Phone Call) and Rauschenberg’s 1965 Spring Training, weren’t they also presenting a pared-down summation of the common actions that occur between two lovers? When Andy Warhol filmed Johnston and Herko smoking cigarettes, drinking beer, and vamping for the camera on a rooftop in Jill and Freddy Dancing (1963), wasn’t he also capturing the boredom and excess that the workaday city can produce for two romantic friends? These works were not autobiographical, but they did implicate the specific people that made them. In doing so, these artists suggested that art and writing mattered outside of the history of a specific, rarefied discipline. It could mean something within the context of a neighborhood block (Hudson Street, in the case of Jacobs); or the place where a work was made (a bathtub, for David Gordon’s Mannequin Dance, of 1962). Art making leaves traces. Attention to self-reflexivity and an unconscious manifestation of the substructural relations of production were not only modernist and Marxist holdovers concurrently being played out on the national and world stages; they were also realities being framed and worked through by an entangled group of individuals in a changing city. The context that made up the city’s domestic spaces—that two men could live with one another; that a married couple could easily get divorced; that former industrial spaces could be used for groups of people to live and work; that a woman could live with another woman or live alone—were transmuted into the art language these artists made together.
In an exhibition catalogue this museum published in 1959, Rauschenberg famously said that he tried to “act in the gap between [art and life]”;63 but what is often unacknowledged in this formulation is the way that art, like life, is processual, alienating, or half-grasped. Across various overlapping circles downtown, sites of collaboration shaped the content and structure of the work being produced. For many artists, and the communities in which they lived, ensembles sustained their work, offering creative support and blurring distinctions between artist and participant. Group dynamics also brought out forms of racial and sexual exclusion, reflecting rather than transcending the shape of New York’s social map at the time. Choreographers, poets, musicians, theater producers, and filmmakers working in the early 1960s not only made work together; they also pictured the steadfast and divisive social relations that informed their work as the work itself.
Whether at a performance or out on the street, being alone could become an occasion for becoming part of an integrated structure, even if its totality remained unseen. There is something inchoately queer in the primacy of physical proximity and the simultaneously connective and disorienting experience of touch, if we understand queerness to be “a matter of a world you inhabit, not something you simply are,” as art historian Douglas Crimp has described it.64 Whatever the nonnormative practices of its individual members, many of whom would not identify their artistic self with a sexual identity either then, or ever, it was the world out into which Judson emerged that we might today call queer—contingent, emergent, able to be named only in retrospect. Judson was but one group of young and lithe dancers and non-dancers who aimed to reuse ordinary gestures, but in its attention to engaging the erotics of the everyday, it underscored the immediate world as a locus of the artistic imaginary. This idea that the stuff of daily life could be the raw material for art would prove indispensable not only for subsequent political formations, particularly those under the influence of feminism, but also for cultural organizations that formed under new names: Grand Union, Lesbian Nation, Contact Improvisation, and the Collective for Living Cinema were some of the ways those who appeared in the Concerts of Dance would reorganize themselves. This same notion was also important for artworks such as Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy (1964) or Cecil Taylor’s album Unit Structures (1966). Judson thus contributed to making a language for ongoing experiments with dismantling male-dominated capitalist institutions, as well as for experiments supporting the black radical aesthetic tradition and human interactions with the natural world that we might call the domesticated sublime—creative traditions whose vibrancy calls to us today.65 The legacy of those who gathered for a brief period in the early 1960s at Judson Memorial Church lives in the recurrence and incompleteness of their dissonant ensemble.
1. These works include, among others, Don McDonagh, The Rise and Fall and Rise of Modern Dance (New York: Outerbridge & Dienstfrey, 1970); Jill Johnston, Marmalade Me (New York: E. P. Dutton & Co., 1971); Judson Dance Theater (1962–1966), eds. Wendy Perron and Daniel J. Cameron (Bennington: Bennington College, 1982), exh. cat.; Sally Banes, Democracy’s Body: Judson Dance Theater, 1962–1964 (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1983); Ramsay Burt, Judson Dance Theater: Performative Traces (New York: Routledge, 2006); and Judy Hussie-Taylor, Judson Now (New York: Danspace Project, 2012).
2. At a later date they learned that a jury member had complained they all “look alike.” See Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer quoted in Banes, Democracy’s Body, 88–89.
3. Johnston, “I Dance: Democracy,” Village Voice, August 23, 1962.
4. Press release for “A Concert of Dance #3,” January 30, 1963, Judson Memorial Church Archive, MSS 094, 3;32, Fales Library & Special Collections, New York University Libraries.
5. After the first two years of concerts, the workshop ceased and Carmines took on the responsibility of choosing the choreographers and dates. Al Carmines, “In the Congregation of Art” [1967–68], Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 7.
6. Yvonne Rainer, Work 1961–73 (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974), 9.
7. Robert Morris, “I Dance,” Village Voice, February 3, 1966.
8. Johnston, “Untitled,” in Marmalade Me, 18.
9. Rosalind Krauss, Passages in Modern Sculpture (1977; repr., Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998).
10. Janice Ross, Anna Halprin: Experience as Dance (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007).
11. Simone Forti, Handbook in Motion (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, 1974)
12. Janice Ross, “Atomizing Cause and Effect: Ann Halprin’s 1960s Summer Dance Workshops,” Art Journal 68, no. 2 (Summer 2009): 66.
13. Rainer and Ann Halprin, “Yvonne Rainer Interviews Ann Halprin,” Tulane Drama Review 10, no. 2 (Winter 1965): 142–67.
14. Ibid., 144.
15. The other two students were Paulus Berensohn, who would go onto live in the mountains of North Carolina working as a self-described amateur craft artist and passionate deep ecologist, and Marni Mahaffay. Perron, “Introduction,” Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 2.
16. Cate Deicher, [no title], Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 2.
17. Anita Feldman, “Robert Dunn: His Background and His Developing Teachings” (unpublished paper, 1979, 3–4, Vita, 1980), as cited in Banes, Democracy’s Body, 7.
18. Yvonne Rainer, [no title], Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 10.
19. Steve Paxton similarly recalls that “he allowed us to ramble, argue and turn the class away from his direction. He proposed, and waited. He wanted us to fill in the blanks—and looking back, I suspect we were those blanks.” Paxton, “RE Dunn,” Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 15.
20. James Pritchett, The Music of John Cage (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993).
21. Nancy Zendora, “A Magician in the Classroom,” Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 3.
22. McDonagh, The Rise and Fall, 51. The Dunn epigraph is also from this volume. See Dunn quoted on page 59.
23. Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp,’” in Against Interpretation (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1966).
24. Aileen Passloff, oral history interview conducted by Ana Janevski and Thomas J. Lax, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 22, 2018.
25. Allen Ginsberg, “James Waring & Co.,” Village Voice, December 17, 1958.
26. Rainer, Work, 6.
27. The Living Theatre was the experimental theater named after the living room in which its husband-and-wife founders, painter Julian Beck and actress Judith Malina, began producing their plays in 1947.
28. David Gordon, [no title], Movement Research Performance Journal 14 (Spring 1997): 19.
29. Waring drew on a variety of movement styles from Japanese Noh theater to camp and baroque genres found in vaudeville, commedia dell’arte, and silent films.
30. Robert Dunn quoted in McDonagh, The Rise and Fall, 52.
31. Conceived by Dr. Edward Judson in 1888 to honor his father, Reverend Adoniram Judson, the church was envisioned to provide religious instruction and a variety of social services to the neighborhood’s growing population of Italian immigrants.
32. Spike left Judson Church to become the executive director of the National Council of Churches’ Commission on Religion and Race, which played an important role in the Civil Rights movement. He was brutally killed in 1966, targeted, many believe, for his bisexuality.
33. Howard Moody, A Voice in the Village: A Journey of a Pastor and a People (self-published with Xlibris, 2009), 15.
34. These include Claes Oldenburg’s The Street (1960), a three-dimensional mural in the shape of a city block made of found objects including cardboard, paper, newspaper, and wood and outlined in black paint.
35. Al Carmines, “The Judson Dance Theater, and the Avant-Garde Dance,” lecture given at the Lincoln Center Library and Museum of the Performing Arts, New York, 1968, Dance Audio Archive, MGZTL 4-4, reel 1, Jerome Robbins Dance Division, New York Public Library for the Performing Arts. Carmines affirmed that these seemingly disparate disciplines shared much in common, including their devotion to the immediate, everyday stuff of life. He also pointed to their shared emphasis on groups over individuals, a move away from psychological preoccupations such as individual morality, whether in relation to an individual worshipper or to a character in a play. The epigraph on page 19 is from this source.
36. These include Ruth Allphon and Marni Mahaffay. In 1960, Forti had performed with Patty Mucha.
37. Kaprow’s 18 Happenings in 6 Parts in 1959 at Reuben Gallery in New York has been recognized for juxtaposing artistic activities, like playing violin and painting, with domestic actions, like sweeping the floor or squeezing oranges. These activities took place in separate spaces simultaneously, so that viewers were able to grasp the work only as a partial, mediated experience.
38. These were Roller Boxes (formerly Rollers), See Saw, Huddle, Slant Board, Hangers, Platforms, Accompaniment for La Monte’s “2 sounds” and La Monte’s “2 sounds,” Censor, and From Instructions.
39. Forti’s inspiration and process were similarly task oriented. She first conceptualized the works as drawings, which she used as directions for Morris.
40. Forti in Simone Forti: Thinking with the Body, ed. Sabine Breitwieser (Salzburg: Museum der Moderne, 2015), 71.
41. Forti’s Dance Constructions acquisition papers, Department of Media and Performance Art, The Museum of Modern Art, New York.
42. Julia Bryan-Wilson, “Simone Forti Goes to the Zoo,” October 152 (Spring 2015): 38.
43. Jane Jacobs, The Death and Life of Great American Cities (New York: Random House, 1961), 50.
44. Robert Moses, “Statement of Robert Moses Regarding Washington Square,” Village Voice, January 1, 1958.
45. Jacobs, The Death and Life, 50.
46. Embracing the post-World War II consumerism that set automobile assembly-line production into high gear, Moses proposed the widening or construction of no less than two hundred miles of roads at a time when two-thirds of New Yorkers did not own cars. His various proposed projects also included the Lower Manhattan Expressway, a ten-line elevated highway along the island’s southeast, which was protested in and near Greenwich Village and ultimately defeated. See Robert Caro, The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1974).
47. Bill Dixon quoted in Danielle Goldman, I Want to Be Ready: Improvised Dance as a Practice of Freedom (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2010), 62.
48. Handwritten account of dance improvisation sessions, dated May 23, 1960, in Yvonne Rainer’s notebooks c. 1960–62, Yvonne Rainer Papers, 2006.M.24., 1;2, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles. Accessed online in an audiorecording read by Rainer at http://www.getty.edu/research/ exhibitions_events/exhibitions/rainer/
49. In Johnston’s review of Revelations performed at the West Side YMCA, she wrote, “If that kind of thing were available every Sunday in the neighborhood, I could be a holy roller, definitely.” Johnston, “Mr. Ailey,” Village Voice, December 21, 1961.
50. Banes, Democracy’s Body, 55.
51. Thanks to choreographer, artist, and writer Will Rawls for this reflection.
52. Diane di Prima, “A Concert of Dance: Judson Memorial Church, Friday, 6 July 1962,” Floating Bear, no. 21 (August 1962): 239.
53. Gerard Malanga, “Rollerskate,” Floating Bear, no. 29 (March 1964): 358.
54. James Waring, “To the Floating Bear,” Floating Bear, no. 23 (September 1962): 263.
55. LeRoi Jones, “Present Perfect (Cecil Taylor)” , in Black Music (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1968), 97.
56. Les grandes répétitions, “Cecil Taylor à Paris,” dir. Gérard Patris, featuring Cecil Taylor, Andrew Cyrille, Jimmy Lyons, and Alan Silva (Paris: Office national de radiodiffusion télévision française, 1968). Accessed online at https://www.youtube. com/watch?v=Rh0MUuHJRcQ.
57. Fred Moten, In the Break: The Aesthetics of the Black Radical Tradition (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2003), 161. Jones and Taylor had been close in the late 1950s and early 1960s, until Jones brought poet Allen Ginsberg to Taylor’s East Village apartment. Ginsberg asked Taylor to write music for a reading of his poem Howl; Taylor—feeling loyal to the black Beat poet Bob Kaufman and thinking him unfairly overshadowed by Ginsberg—declined. As they were leaving, Jones disapproved with a remark he knew would have been cutting for Taylor: “The problem with our jazz musicians is that they’re not literate.” See Adam Shatz, “The World of Cecil Taylor,” New York Review of Books, May 16, 2018, http://www.nybooks. com/daily/2018/05/16/the-world-of-cecil-taylor.
58. Jones, “The World of Cecil Taylor” , in Black Music, 101.
59. Jones, “The Changing Same (R&B and New Black Music)” , in Black Music, 174.
60. Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” Artforum 5, no. 10 (June 1967): 12–23.
61. Johnston, Marmalade Me, 69.
62. Rainer, Work, 318.
63. Robert Rauschenberg quoted in Sixteen Americans, ed. Dorothy C. Miller, with statements by the artists and others (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1959), 58.
64. Douglas Crimp, Before Pictures (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016), 11.
65. William Cronon, “The Trouble with Wilderness: Or, Getting Back to the Wrong Nature,” Environmental History 1, no. 1 (January 1996): 7–28. Thanks to Myles Lennon for this reflection.
* Here as everywhere, my critical syntax is indebted to Saidiya Hartman and Fred Moten. Thanks also to Sarah Resnick for sharpening my prose.