Al Giese, photography English of Steve Paxton, dancer Trisha Brown, 1963.
In the 1960s, the Judson Memorial Church (on Washington Square in New York) became a primary center of radical artistic experimentation and a major space for the presentation of performances by many artists involved in the downtown New York scene, who would interweave visual art, music, poetry, theater, and dance. Prior to this, beginning in 1959, the Judson Gallery had been founded to provide studios and a space for exhibitions, happenings, and performances by artists such as Jim Dine, Allan Kaprow, Allison Knowles, Claes Oldenburg, Tom Wesselmann, and even Daniel Spoerri. Furthermore, in 1962, protestant minister Al Carmines offered the sanctuary of the church to a group of dancers—Trisha Brown, Lucinda Childs, Ruth Emerson, Deborah Hay, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Elaine Summers, among others—to present their final course work from a pivotal choreography class taught by composer Robert Dunn. From this date onwards, the collective, that would be called the Judson Dance Theater, would introduce radically new methodologies for composition and dance practice, understood today as primary foundations for minimal, intermedia, and performance art to come.
When Jon Hendricks, activist, artist and co-founder of the Guerilla Art Action Group, reopened the gallery in 1966, it emerged once again as a central site for radicalism, artistic experimentation, and interdisciplinary collaboration. In 1968, he organized the exhibition 12 Evenings of Manipulations, which Jud Yalkut documented in an experimental video work. Elaine Summers’ earlier Judson Fragments (1964) which recycles footage from Judson Dance concerts splices it together using chance methods with other footage, including James Waring teaching a choreography class. Hendricks continued to invite many local and international artists to exhibit work in the space, including Bernar Venet, who realized a series of performances including Relativity's Track in 1968. The site’s cultural activism culminated with the exhibition The People’s Flag Show (1970). Organized by Hendricks, Faith Ringgold, and Jean Toche, all arrested for “desecrating the flag,” the exhibition became a flash point in artists’ campaigns in defense of free speech during the escalating opposition to the Vietnam War, and the continued development of anti-racist, anti-colonial, feminist, and queer activism.
Inventing Dance: In and Around Judson Church, New York 1959–1970 prominently considers the work of those most vital figures for the Judson Dance Theater. However, the exhibition also documents the many others who produced or performed in work presented at the church in this long decade. The exhibition offers a glimpse into “Judson,” and all it signifies, which remains, even today, a major source of influence for choreographers, dancers, artists, and other cultural producers. Through documents, films, archival photographs, and exhibition ephemera, it attempts to summarize the movement of bodies at the Judson. However, the question remains: how to exhibit work, much of it improvised and specific to its original performance, six decades later?
(Photo courtesy of Fales Library.)