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The Bride and the Bachelors

Duchamp with Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, Johns

A woman looks at Duchamp's urinal sculpture, Fountain

Exploring one of the most important chapters in the history of contemporary art, this exhibition focussed on Marcel Duchamp’s American legacy, tracing his relationship to four great modern masters

The exhibition examined Duchamp’s relationships with composer, John Cage, choreographer, Merce Cunningham, and visual artists, Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns.

Encountering Duchamp’s work in the early stages of their careers, these younger artists embraced key elements of his ideas and practice, resulting in a seismic shift in the direction of art in the 1950s and ‘60s.

The exhibition featured around 90 works reflecting Duchamp’s levels of engagement across art, dance, and music. 

Leading contemporary artist Philippe Parreno devised a dynamic experiential staging inspired by Cunningham’s choreography and Cage’s music, featuring two Yamaha Disklavier pianos playing live Cage scores, while the ‘ghost’ of the dancers was heard pounding the floor. The soundscape was punctuated by Parreno’s own interpretation of Cage’s famous 4’ 33”.

The exhibition is curated by Carlos Basualdo (The Keith L. and Katherine Sachs Curator of Contemporary Art,) in collaboration with Erica F. Battle, (Project Curatorial Assistant, Modern and Contemporary Art) and organised by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with the Barbican. The exhibition has been developed with the full co-operation of Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, John Cage Trust, Merce Cunningham Trust and Association Marcel Duchamp.

Dance Curator: Jeannie Steele. Presented in association with The Place, with the kind assistance of Richard Alston Dance Company and London Contemporary Dance School, and the generous support of the Merce Cunningham Trust 

Live dance

Serving as the metteur en scène (orchestrator), contemporary artist Philippe Parreno activated time and movement within the exhibition to create a vital way of experiencing the work of the five featured artists. The varied sequence of Parreno’s subtle orchestration of live and pre-recorded sound, arranged in concert with live music and dance performances, enabled the exhibition itself to change over time.

Merce Cunningham’s ‘Events’ were performed throughout the duration of the exhibition by students and graduates from London Contemporary Dance School and dancers from Richard Alston Dance Company. Often considered the dance versions of Duchamp’s ‘readymades’, performances were made up of sections taken from repertory pieces drawn from collaborations with Duchamp, Cage, Rauschenberg and Johns. 

Excerpts from Merce Cunningham repertoire included: 

Changing Steps, 1975 (Music: John Cage, Design: Charles Atlas)
Scramble, 1967 (Toshi Ichiyanagi, Frank Stella)
Sounddance, 1975 (David Tudor, Mark Lancaster)
Canfield, 1969 (Pauline Oliveros,, Robert Morris)
Walkaround Time, 1968 (David Behrman, Jasper Johns)
Roaratorio, 1983 (John Cage, Mark Lancaster)

Special events

Ticketed dance events took place in the gallery setting including Cunningham’s RainForest, presented by Rambert Dance Company and Richard Alston Dance Company performing mixed pieces of his repertoire. 


‘Expect a headlong celebration of irony, absurdity and chance encounters. The spirit of Duchamp has never been more alive‘
Financial Times
‘The triumph lies in how it manages to capture the current of live creative energy that crackled between these men… It's just the kind of serendipitous magic that these artists had been aiming for‘
The Guardian
‘Ten out of ten for... daring to grasp this stingy nettle and put on this really rather brilliant exhibition‘
The Sunday Times
‘A multi-sensory, cross-arts exhibition that challenges the possibilities of the gallery space‘
‘The exhibition design is a work of art in itself…It's this spirit of placing the spectator firmly in the centre that informs the brilliant new show‘
Design Week
‘This clever, thoughtful, elegant show amounts itself to a kind of dance performance across continents and generations...shaping the unboundly anarchic arena of art today‘
The Sunday Telegraph
‘Duchamp himself would have cheerfully put his hand up and declared 'guilty as charged'‘


Two dancers perform with silver balloons in an art gallery

Cunningham's RainForest Reimagined

Rambert Dance Company performed one of Merce Cunningham's most iconic performances, RainForest, instantly recognizable by its set design, a stage filled with the beautiful reflective helium pillows designed by Andy Warhol.


Watch: An Audio Slideshow

Hear from some of the people behind the curation and staging of The Bride and the Bachelors, and see exclusive photographs from the installation and rehearsals prior to the exhibition's opening.

Marcel Duchamp

Watch: The Bride and the Bachelors

What was Duchamp like? Why did Nude Descending a Staircase (No. 2) cause such a controversy in 1912? What drew Cage, Cunningham, Rauschenberg, and Johns to this fascinating Frenchman in New York? Find out in this specially commissioned animation. 

Merce Cunningham

Listen: Richard Alston on Merce Cunningham

Choreographer Richard Alston reflects on the infuence of Merce Cunningham on his career and the Richard Alston Dance Company. 

With thanks

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