Sunday, October 10 marked the closing of Thanks for Being with Us: Contemporary Art from the Douglas Nielsen Collection, which had been on view at Tucson Museum of Art (TMA) since mid-July.
Bringing a spirit of celebration and closure to the exhibition, Nielsen — a professor of dance at University of Arizona — choreographed a dance titled Looking Up/Looking Down. Performed by 24 University of Arizona dancers, the piece was conceived with the TMA’s signature, spiraling square ramp in mind. With characteristic inventiveness, Nielsen intended for the performance to be viewed from above. Shoulder-to-shoulder, with little room to spare, the audience watched enthusiastically from the concrete helix.
Hundreds gathered to view Looking Up / Looking Down, the dance choreographed by Doug Nielsen to accompany Thanks for Being with Us. In the distance is one of my paintings, Hands.
A physically demanding performance that is accompanied by numerous tempo changes and otherworldly sound effects, Looking Up/Looking Down references many of the works in Thanks for Being with Us. Dancers twist their mouths in homage of Bruce Nauman’s Studies for Holograms series. They point up toward the audience just as the boy points to his obeisant pet chick in Dean Styers’s Now Do You Understand? Rubbing their hands together, dancers re-enact my neopop artwork, Hands.
“With dance, when it’s over, it’s gone! But your painting will remain!” Doug remarked to me in an after-dance chat. He observes this essential fact in the exhibition’s catalog, as well: “… [Artists] can get famous after they die, my dances evaporate. There is something about the permanence of visual art. […] When I wake up in the morning, the art on the wall is still here, but my dance at Stevie Eller [Dance Theater] has disappeared. I go back to the studio and there is nothing there — it is a totally empty space.”
To be sure, dance is an in-the-moment, ephemeral medium. It must be experienced in time, much like film. Conversely, a painting can remain on a wall indefinitely. However, there is no guarantee that a painting will survive time. Ask any museum conservator that! Likewise, we change, as viewers. Our personal, individual relationships to any given work of art will change throughout our lives.
I am sure I am not alone in admitting that I was sad to say goodbye to the show. It is frightening how quickly time passes; not long ago, I was envisioning the exhibition as if it were several months away. Now it is a memory. Like all things, fleeting and impermanent.
I am thankful to have been there.