One of the most popular exhibits at Glenstone, the sprawling contemporary art complex in Potomac, Md., is an audio video installation in which a cheerful young woman in a chiffon dress smashes car windows, one after the other, spraying broken glass all over the place. Created by Swiss artist Pipilotti Rist in 1997, it had an obvious influence on Beyoncé’s 2016 car-smashing video for her song “Hold Up,” from the 46-minute film “Lemonade.”
Rist’s video, titled “Ever Is Over All,” feels like a dance work in its own right. (It’s on view through Oct. 6; “Turbulent,” a video by Iranian artist Shirin Neshat, opens in its place Nov. 14.) There’s the sense of euphoric physical release — so disarming here — and the lyrical rhythm in the bounce of the young woman’s stride, her flowing dress, the expressiveness of her body. As a dance critic, I’m fascinated by this video, just one of several works that connect Glenstone to the dance world.
There’s a clear flow of ideas from Rist’s video to Beyoncé’s, a pipeline of inspiration that’s not unusual for the singer-songwriter, who’s known to sometimes borrow overtly from other artists. The “Hold Up” video shares Rist’s attitude of joyful freedom and female power, and her appreciation of chiffon. Beyoncé’s use has a kind of circular logic to it, since Rist made a name for herself in part by appropriating techniques from MTV, setting movement to music to create her own style of ecstatic music videos, steeped in bright colors and sensuous feeling. In “Ever Is Over All,” the music is gently upbeat, accompanied by humming; even the passersby — a female police officer, an older woman in a red coat — have a jaunty step and approving smile for the pretty vandal’s actions.
Glenstone’s other ties to dance are less obvious but no less vital. As you would expect in a museum devoted to postwar art, there are works by Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and Sol LeWitt, and considering that each of those artists also collaborated with prominent choreographers, their works strike me as dance Easter eggs in a realm of stationary works.
Glenstone’s unique location on 300 acres in suburbia invites you into a world of movement. The wide-open landscaping and airy, uncluttered galleries prompt self-reflection.
How am I going to get around this vast complex?
Every move seems amplified. It’s worth having an action plan, including comfy shoes, maybe a hat.
As much as I like the unimpeded flow of the galleries — some are roomy enough to drive a couple of trucks into — I also find that strolling to them from the parking lot simply feels good. A winding path leads to a soft, natural setting, through an undulating field spreading to the horizon — wildflowers, grasses, graceful young trees.
This, at least, is the experience in spring and summer. My first visit was on a snowy day last March, when the grounds were desolate-looking, a mix of eerie and romantic, very Scottish Highlands.
No matter the season, dance history springs immediately to mind upon seeing works by Warhol, Johns, Rauschenberg and LeWitt grouped together in a gallery in the pavilions. At various points in their careers, Warhol, Johns and Rauschenberg teamed up with prominent choreographers including Merce Cunningham and those who were part of the experimental Judson Dance Theater in Greenwich Village. Rauschenberg worked with other pivotal dancemakers including Paul Taylor and Trisha Brown, designing sets, lighting and costumes; he even choreographed and performed dances of his own. Warhol and LeWitt worked with Lucinda Childs.
The works on view by the four artists were all made in the late 1950s and ’60s, a time of radical reinvention in dance studios and artists’ lofts, “and fluid cross-fertilization between the visual and performing arts,” said Emily Wei Rales, director and co-founder of Glenstone, in a recent interview.
Rauschenberg’s 1964 combine “Gold Standard,” on view at Glenstone, goes to the heart of that multidisciplinary conversation. It’s a large, gold folding screen adorned with masculine totems: worn work boots and work gloves; a tie, dipped in paint; a heavy pocket watch and, while we’re on the subject, a stunning phallic symbol perched on top, craning upward with its naked, glowing bulb. Perhaps subtlety fell victim to the circumstances of this work’s creation. Rauschenberg made it while he was in Tokyo with the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, serving as designer of the troupe’s sets and costumes. He created “Gold Standard” onstage, in front of an audience, in an event that was organized by a Japanese critic and is remembered as more-or-less improvisation, a performance as well as an assemblage.
Warhol, famous for his spirit of play, was naturally open to a dance collaboration. Glenstone has his “Large Flowers” (1964), a wall-spanning, spirit-lifting pair of poppies, one orange-red and the other a kind of electric lilac, so lively they almost jump off the dark green field. Four years later, for Cunningham’s work “RainForest,” Warhol created square, metallic helium-filled balloons, which reflected light and floated around the dancers. They were borrowed from Warhol’s installation titled “Silver Clouds,” and it was Cunningham’s idea to co-opt them as decor. I’ve always considered them among the more intuitively sympathetic set designs for dance.
Johns designed the costumes for Cunningham’s “RainForest” dance — Warhol wanted the dancers to be naked, Cunningham didn’t and Johns’s flesh-colored, all-over tights were the compromise. He was Cunningham’s artistic adviser from 1967 to 1980, designing a wide range of sets and costumes, and Johns remains a champion of the late choreographer. On display at Glenstone is one of his American flag paintings, “Flag on an Orange Field II” (1958).
The 1962 LeWitt work on view, “Run IV,” is the most subtly suggestive of dance energy, with its repeated rows of stick figures painted on canvas and wood, their heads tucked down, bodies leaning forward in a sprinter’s long-legged stride. Individually, these runners are stringy, tense and frozen, like the Giacometti figure in a nearby gallery; stand back and unfocus your eyes a bit, and they seem to flow, like a flip book, into lines of forward thrust.
LeWitt brought his obsession with repetition and what it can do to the viewer’s eye to a dance decor he made for minimalist choreographer Childs. In 1979, he created a striking black-and-white film for her abstract work simply titled “Dance.” Childs had thought the artist might paint a backdrop for her, but LeWitt insisted that her dancers were the project’s big idea, and he wanted to augment their actions, so he used a camera to produce layered images. The final product was a montage of larger-than-life views of the dancers, multiplied somewhat like “Run IV.” In performance, the live dancers appear to mirror their filmic counterparts, their living color popping against LeWitt’s monotone. I was fortunate to see this mesmerizing play of contrasts when Childs brought “Dance” to the University of Maryland’s Clarice Smith Center in 2011.
I asked Rales if, given the open space inside the pavilions and surrounding them, she would ever commission a site-specific performance.
“Performance is becoming ever more important to contemporary art museums,” Rales noted, citing new buildings that include spaces for dance. So, while she has no current plans for dance at Glenstone, she’s leaving the door open. “I never want to rule it out,” she said. “If there’s a proposal for something related to dance that fits well with how we like to show art, which is in these spare open spaces, we might consider it.
“We’re really interested in those things that appeal to multiple senses.”
Among Glenstone’s current offerings, Rales points to Robert Gober’s “Untitled,” a room-size installation that is part forest, part prison, with barred windows and sinks eternally gushing water. She also mentions the outdoor audio installation in the trees, “FOREST (for a thousand years . . .),” by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, where disembodied sounds of gunfire, aircraft and birdsong envelop visitors like an experience in immersive theater.
“If dance and performance can support that,” Rales said, “it will absolutely be something that we will be increasingly interested in.”
Glenstone, 12100 Glen Rd., Potomac, Md. Admission is free, but tickets must be reserved online at glenstone.org.