Lincoln Center takes its ceilings very seriously. There are sparkling diamond clusters on the New York State Theater ceiling and the fabulous jeweled chandeliers that are raised before each performance at the Metropolitan Opera. Wooden acoustic panels hang like clouds over the audience in the recital halls and Alice Tully Hall.
The ceilings at New York Public Library for the Performing Arts are pragmatic – our visitors need light. The ceilings combine acoustic panels, track LSI systems (in the galleries) and fluorescents, but sometimes, we break free of utilitarianism. So, hanging in the center of the Vincent Astor Gallery ceiling like a precious chandelier, there is a folding chair. The current exhibition David Gordon Archiveography is set in a heavily montaged (or, you could say crowded) gallery with collages of images, program/press release texts, and scripts covering the walls, and installations representing major works around the space. It manages to be both intensely designed, as befitting a graphic designer/window designer – turned choreographer, and pedestrian, in the post-modern dance sense of conventional movements. The Museum’s designer, Caitlin Whittington, Play-back Manager Mike Diekmann, and Installer Rene Ronda, did a great job of collaborating with Gordon so that it accommodates his vision and circular chronology in a neutral space.
David Gordon is one of the major figures in dance over the last 6 decades. He participated in the Judson Dance Theater and was a member of Grand Union, which championed and used improvisation. The best book on Judson and the Grand Union is Sally Banes’ Terpsichore in Sneakers – check out the original 1979 or the 1987 re-issue. The chair, however, alone on the ceiling, is post-Grand Union. It refers or represents a major dance work, Chair (1974-). In his para-narrative works, Gordon has explained that he created it for his muse/wife, the amazing Valda Setterfield. The ballet-trained, long-time dancer with the Merce Cunningham Company, had been injured in a car accident and was rehabilitating, so he created a work for her that used neither ballet nor Cunningham movement vocabularies. The performer sits, stands or balances on the multitude of surfaces that he found in a normal folding chair and floor. When it was first presented, the accompanying text claimed that it was created with a grid and chance mechanisms. As a young dance critic, I believed him and wrote about the lineage of aleatoric composition and choreography. My editor pointed out very kindly that I had been scammed. Since then, he has used Chair as a starting point for other works and, I suspect, has pulled off a few more scams.
1974 was just before video-documentation of dance, but you can see taped revivals and later works based on the Chair movement vocabulary on his web site, Archiveography or at The Library for the Performing Arts. Check out the exhibition through March and the informative Gia Kourlas article in the New York Times Arts section on the exhibition (January 4, C2). Follow the links to the wonderful Archiveolgraphy site, http://davidgordon.nyc/about-archiveography.