Published by Dutton Books in 1975, photographer James Klosty’s book Merce Cunningham was the first book to be published on the legendary American choreographer. This month, in celebration of the Cunningham’s 100th birthday, powerHouse Books will release Klosty’s extraordinarily beautiful photo book under the title Merce Cunningham Redux. The book has been redesigned by Yolanda Cuomo and completely reimagined by Klosty with an additionally 140 pages of photographs, many never published before.
James Klosty is a photographer and actor/singer who received his graduate degree in the inaugural class of NYC’s professional theater MFA program. In 1975, his photographs of Cunningham received one-man exhibitions at the Leo Castelli Gallery and the International Center of Photography, both located in New York City. Additional books by Klosty include John Cage Was (Wesleyan University Press, 2014) and Greece 66 (Damiani, 2018).
I first met Klosty in 1967 while performing with the Cunningham Company. He accompanied the company on tour nationally and internationally to photograph us during rehearsals and performances. I was honored to be a member of that incredible company (1967 -1970) and fortunate to be included in this book with photographs of Cunningham while he was still actively performing. The company members during those three years included Cunningham, Carolyn Brown, Barbara Lloyd Dilly, Douglas Dunn, Meg Harper, Suzanna Hayman-Chaffey, Sandra Neels, Albert Reid, Valda Setterfield, and Mel Wong. John Cage, David Tudor and Gordon Mumma were composing and working with the company; Jasper Johns was creating sets and designing costumes; and Charles Atlas was a member of the backstage crew before he went on to become a renowned videographer.
Klosty’s book covers an era of the Cunningham company before it was completely recognized by U.S. dance critics, and the several years that followed its suddenly being in demand both nationally and internationally. Merce Cunningham Redux includes photos of Cunningham rehearsing alone and with his company at the old Cunningham Studio located at 498 Third Avenue with its cracked tile floors, peeling walls and broken mirrors; as well as photos of the company working in the at the time new Westbeth studio. Beautiful Performance photo of Cunningham’s Antic Meet (1958), Night Wandering (1958), Crisis (1960), Assemblage (1968), How To Pass, Fall and Run (1965), Night Wandering (1958), Borst Park, Place (1966), Canfield (1969), Scramble (1967), Signals (1970), Rainforest (1968), Tread (1970), Second Hand (1970), Walkaround Time (1968), and Winterbranch (1964). Also included are photos taken during Cunningham’s Events performed in gymnasiums, art galleries, outside a French castle, and more.
There is an entire section of photographs taken during rehearsals in the studio and in theaters. Klosty captured close-ups of Cunningham rehearsing his company at the Théâtre Experimental, Foundation Maeght in Saint Paul de Vence (1970), a theater that collapsed overnight during a windstorm and caused damage to some of the company’s electronic music equipment. We see David Tudor sitting outside with a cat and Viola Farber cutting Jasper Johns’ hair during a rehearsal break. It was 1970 and Farber had returned as guest artist to perform her original role in Crisis at the Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM).
There is a lovely photograph of artist Robert Rauschenberg presenting the 1970 Dance Magazine award to Carolyn Brown, and one of a smiling John Cage collecting edible mushrooms, and photographs of Cunningham and Cage rehearsing and watching rehearsals.
The late French painter Marcel Duchamp attended the first performance of Cunningham’s Walkaround Time. Klosty captured a wonderful shot of Duchamp watching the rehearsal and includes an inset of the entire Walkaround Time decor by Jasper Johns that he created after Duchamp’s painting titled The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass).
Throughout, Klosty includes texts from Cunningham’s associates including John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Paul Taylor, Lincoln Kirstein, Edwin Denby, and others. One of them being a long and detailed account by founding company member Carolyn Brown. Merce Cunningham Redux is a treasure trove of rare photos of Cunningham, his dancers and the composers and artists with whom he collaborated. Klosty has captured both their humanity as well as their public personae.
Merce Cunningham Redux is not a coffee table book. This book is filled with the artwork of James Klosty. It is a collector’s item for dancers, artists, musicians or anyone interested in the arts.
Written by Jeff Slayton for LA Dance Chronicle, November 15, 2019.
Featured image: The photographer and his subject – Merce Cunningham and James Klosty, Grenoble, France, 1972.