founding member of the Judson Dance Theater in New York, Yvonne Rainer has produced a body of work that gets to the heart of human movement in all of its awkwardness and beauty. “Yvonne Rainer: Dances and Films,” drawn mostly from her archive at the Getty Research Institute, surveys her career as a dancer, choreographer, and filmmaker through photographs, audiovisual presentations, writings, and ephemera.
The spellbinding centerpiece of the exhibition is the video footage projected on a large screen in the research institute’s main gallery. Documenting 12 of Rainer’s dances from 1961 to 2012, the videos show a conceptually rigorous artist at her most approachable. Among the works presented are a re-creation of Chair/Pillow (1969), featuring a large group of casually dressed performers making art almost inadvertently with their bodies, fluffy pillows, and folding chairs, and an excerpt from Spiraling Down (2008), in which four highly skilled dancers burn themselves out to the strains of Ravel’s Bolero. Meanwhile, evidence of Rainer’s artistic reach can be found in an adjacent gallery, where her early short films and later experimental features are on view.
A selection of journals, dance scores, and drawings tracks Rainer’s artistic evolution and creative processes. The score for “Trio B, Running” from The Mind is a Muscle (1966–68), for example, maps out an energetic sequence in a single line propelled by directional arrows. On the walls, photographs of major dance works from the 1960s and early 1970s are accompanied by the artist’s thoughts on how to create “ordinary,” unpretentious dance from the basics of human activity.
“You just do it,” Rainer says, “with the coordination of a pro and the non-definition of an amateur.” This exhibition leaves no doubt that Rainer “just did it” on her own terms.
A version of this story originally appeared in the October 2014 issue of ARTnews on page 122.