press release

More than 1,000 works - paintings, sculptures, costumes, stage-set designs, drawings and photographs - tell this tale of the magical, extraordinary cross-fertilisations between dance and art. Together, they comprise a visit that spans the period from the masterpieces of the early twentieth century right up to the latest trends in contemporary art. Starting with the artists who told the story of theatrical choreography, such as Edgar Degas and Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, the exhibition presents works by Matisse, Gontcharova, Roerich, Balla and Depero for Serge Diaghilev's Ballets Russes, the designs generated in the twenties by Giorgio de Chirico for the Ballets Suédois and the ones created by Alexandra Exter, Casimir Malevich and El Lissizky for theatres in Russia. The star exhibits include stage-sets and costumes by Pablo Picasso and Fernand Léger's revolutionary "African" inventions for La Creation du monde. Next, the exhibition progresses to Joan Miró's creations in the thirties for Serge Lifar, to Isamu Noguchi's theatrical innovations for Martha Graham in the forties, Robert Rauschenberg's experimental works for Merce Cunningham and Keith Haring's for Bill T. Jones and Arnie Zane, ending up with the creations of Davis Salle and Jeff Koons for Karole Armitage, of Giulio Paolini for Davide Bombana, and of Grazia Toderi for Virgilio Sieni.

The exhibition's curators, Gabriella Belli and Elisa Guzzo Vaccarino, decided to highlight the great changes that have taken place in the theatre and in artistic research during the course of more than a century. The period's most important artists were transformed into the most innovative set designers, transferring their new creative values onto the stage For the theatre, this collaboration with the experiments conducted by the historical avant-gardes was both important and fertile: the relationship between the visual and plastic arts on the one hand and ballet and dance on the other proceeded along a dual track of expression: painters, fashion designers and architects soon started working directly on stage-sets and performances.

The exhibition starts with a room dedicated to the late nineteenth century artists who painted the theatre and its world: Edgar Degas and Federico Zandomeneghi captured for posterity the salient moments of life on the stage, the goings-on behind the scenes, the rehearsals and the preparations for the stage, displaying the human and social face of fin de siècle Parisian ballet. At the same time, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Jules Chéret and Giovanni Boldini were entering this world, sharing the everyday vicissitudes of their subjects: an involvement that anticipated the sensitivity of the twentieth century avant-gardes, who were to be particularly alert to the representation of movement and of dynamism.

In the very first years of the twentieth century, artists stopped painting the theatre as something they were looking in on from outside and started climbing up on the stage themselves, taking a direct interest in stage-set and costume design, searching for new languages for choreography, music and the theatre. For these artists, the theatre became a big laboratory, a place where they could experiment with even the most audacious solutions of artistic language. By the end of the 1920s, there was not a single avant-garde movement that did not contribute something to innovation in the theatre, in tune with the transformation of the vision, of the theory and of the practice of ballet and of dance. The pioneers of this theatrical revolution included the stars of American modern dance, Isadora Duncan and Loïe Fuller, the muses who inspired sketchers, photographers and sculptors, just as the dancers in the variety shows, the dance halls and the music halls had inspired Toulouse-Lautrec, Bourdelle and Severini.

But the great innovator whose impact was planetary and permanent was unquestionably Sergei Diaghilev, the impresario of the Ballets Russes. Arriving in Paris in 1908, during the pre-war upheaval that put the French capital at the heart of major changes - from painting and music to lifestyle itself - Diaghilev revolutionised the idea of the ballet and of the stage-set with the farsightedness of one who had immediately grasped that the new century was not about to save anything of its predecessor, launching himself at the discovery of new artistic frontiers and new talents.

With an unprecedented alchemy of esotericism, Russian folklore - one scandalous title among many was The Rites of Spring, primitivist and extensively reported in this exhibition - and avant-garde languages, Diaghilev sowed uproar in the theatre stalls in Paris, London, Monte Carlo, New York and Buenos Aires. Between 1909 to 1929, Diaghilev broke with the tradition of the ballet lasting all evening and invited Matisse, Picasso, Bakst, Gontcharova and Larionov to design the stage-sets and the costumes for short authored ballets for his Paris-based company. He also called in the leading names in Futurism: Balla, Prampolini and Depero. It was with Depero that he worked on preparing several important projects, such as The Song of the Nightingale (Le Chant du Rossignol), in a version that unfortunately never got as far as the stage, followed by a more fortunate version created by Henri Matisse in 1920. The celebrated figure of Diaghilev was counterbalanced by that of Rolf de Maré, the impresario of the rival Ballets Suédois, which also made a mark in Paris between 1920 and 1925, working with Fernand Léger (La Création du Monde) and Giorgio de Chirico (La Jarre), as well as artists who had already been co-opted into the Ballets Russes, such as Jean Cocteau.

In the same period, in the climate of unprecedented renaissance affecting Russian art that followed in the wake of the October Revolution, some of the greatest artists who had opted to stay at home focused a large part of their activity on experimentation in the theatre, which became the venue for some strikingly innovative proposals: Futurism, Suprematism and Constructivism were all tested in the theatre by such as Alexandra Exter, El Lissitsky, Casimir Malevich and Vladimir Tatlin. In the framework of the Bauhaus, the dominant personality and research work was that of Oskar Schlemmer, who has an important section in this exhibition. Spearheading a radical battle against conformist theatrical aesthetic, he wrote one of the most brilliant pages of the artistic and cultural history of Europe in the twenties. It was his experimentation that caused all the arts to be involved, from stage-set design, choreography and architecture to language, the visual arts and sculpture, enabling them to lay down solid foundations for the ethical and aesthetic revival of art and theatre that was to take place after the Second World War. One important chapter is reserved for the choreographic stage-set of the latter half of the twentieth century. Here the exhibition recounts Joan Miró's relations with Serge Lifar and Léonide Massine and Robert Rauschenberg's "combine paintings", which became stage-sets for Merce Cunningham, as well as the works created in the forties by Isamu Noguchi for Martha Graham, the great protagonist of new American dance: those stage sculptures that were to become such an important element of expression for the psychoanalytical sides of her works. The curators decided it would be important for the exhibition to include a series of fundamental works dating from the second half of the twentieth century to the present day, although they were well aware that it would have been impossible to represent its entire complexity.

As a result, The Dance of the Avant-gardes presents Lucio Fontana's works that interpret Petrassi-Miloss' Portrait of Don Quixote, dwells on Keith Haring's unmistakable graphic works and continues as far as the most recent creations by David Salle and Jeff Koons for Karole Armitage. But it also shows Giulio Paolini's stage-set designs for Davide Bombana's Teorema and Grazia Toderi's videos for Virgilio Sieni's Flower of the Thousand and One Nights.

In "The Dance of the Avant-gardes", the MART is also presenting a section dedicated to the fashion world: Gianni Versace's sketches and costumes for Maurice Béjart and for William Forsythe, the creations of Issey Miyake, also for Forsythe, the clothing designed by Christian Lacroix for Bianca Li, Yves Saint-Laurent's sketches and costumes for Roland Petit and Jean-Paul Gaultier's costumes for Regine Chopinot. Near these creations are the works of fashion photographers who have made unusual experimental incursions into the world of dance: Bruce Weber, Peter Lindbergh, Deborah Turbeville, Ellen Von Unwerth and Koto Bolofo have captured striking, unprecedented images of this world in movement on film.

"Fashion-dance-photography. Three profoundly interrelated universes", writes Franca Sozzani in the catalogue essay about the exhibition's final section, which she curated, "that have never stopped cross-fertilising since long ago in 1924, when the Ballets Russes met Coco Chanel up on stage, with Pablo Picasso, Henri Laurens, Darius Milhaud and Bronislava Nijinska acting as catalysts, for the creation of Train Bleu, a ballet based on an idea of Jean Cocteau's: overlapping milieux that unfurl, telling stories and narrating "fatal reflections", enchanting even the most cynical and jaded of eyes."

Curators : Gabriella Belli, Elisa Vaccarino

only in german

The Dance of the Avant-gardes / La Danza delle Avanguardie
Paintings, scenery and costumes from Degas to Picasso, from Matisse to Keith Haring
Kuratoren: Gabriella Belli, Elisa Vaccarino

mit Giacomo Balla, Giorgio De Chirico, Merce Cunningham, Edgar Degas, Eredi Depero, André Derain, Serge Diaghilev, Alexandra Exter, Jan Fabre, Natalija Gontscharowa, Keith Haring, Jeff Koons, Mikhail Larionov, Henri Laurens, Fernand Léger, Peter Lindbergh, El Lissitzky, Kasimir Malewitsch, Henri Matisse, Joan Miró, Isamu Noguchi, Giulio Paolini, Pablo Picasso, Enrico Prampolini, Robert Rauschenberg, David Salle, Oskar Schlemmer, Gino Severini, Wladimir Tatlin, Grazia Toderi, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Deborah Turbeville, Ellen von Unwerth, Bruce Weber, Arnie Zane

Kuratoren: Gabriella Belli, Elisa Guzzo Vaccarino

Künstler: Edgar Degas, Henri Toulouse-Lautrec, Henri Matisse, Natalija Gontscharowa, Mikhail Larionov, Giacomo Balla, Serge Diaghilev, Giorgio De Chirico, Fernand Léger, Alexandra Exter, Kasimir Malewitsch, El Lissizky, Pablo Picasso, Oskar Schlemmer, Joan Miró, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, Keith Haring, David Salle, Jeff Koons, Giulio Paolini ...