Dance in the Museum Movement between Institutions and Genres

Dr. Dirk Luckow, Director of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg; © Bertold Fabricius
Dr. Dirk Luckow, Director of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg | Photo (detail): © Bertold Fabricius

The mutual inspiration of dance and the fine arts constantly poses new challenges for both choreographers and the audience, as Dirk Luckow, Director of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, explains in this interview.

Centre Pompidou in Paris, MoMA in New York, Tate Modern and the Hayward Gallery in London: they are all currently embracing dance. Someone who for some time now has been seeking effective frictions between choreography and movement in the context of the fine arts, for instance with works by William Forsythe or Xavier Le Roy, is Dirk Luckow, Director of the Deichtorhallen Hamburg, one of the largest exhibition houses for contemporary art in Europe.

Mr. Luckow, in 2003, when you became director of the Kunsthalle Kiel, you already launched the project “Open the Curtain – the Interplay between Dance and Art“, co-curated by Susanne Traub.

The Kunsthalle Kiel was years ahead of its time. The idea was a “museum in motion”. With performances by Boris Charmatz, La Ribot and Tino Sehgal, Open the Curtain marked the beginning. Installations - Fluxus has already been around in art since the 1960s - and more than ever it is being confirmed that the approach of the artists plays a role, rather than the medium.

Was Tino Sehgal already well-known in the art scene at that time?

I had heard of him. He was already working on solutions as to how he could include dance in the discourse with the classical presentation forms for the fine arts. An experience with him is a vivid example: I was with Sehgal at his exhibition in the Guggenheim Museum New York, we were looking down from above into the rotunda where on the floor a couple of dancers were kissing, and he just said: “ A loan from the MoMA.” With this the action acquired a sort of object status. Like a picture.

Do you remember the response to „Open the Curtain“? Of the visitors? Of the artists?

For many it was a discovery. Experimental dance, concept dance had not yet entered the mindscape. And even the artists reacted in surprise to the invitation, whereas nowadays they actually seek the museum context. As a field of experimentation. A space that is, of course, protected, and yet for the dancer it does present a different public than the stage in a classical theatre situation.

How did William Forsythe’ s “White Bouncy Castle” come to the Deichtorhallen in 2010 and Xavier Le Roy’s “Retrospective“ in 2013? Did the choreographers approach you?

They were both co-operations with Kampnagel. In between was another project that, in my opinion, had to do with dance: Antony Gormley’s Horizon Field Hamburg.

How did the audience react to the installations in the Deichtorhallen?

Participation is an important aspect. It has been a topic in the museum for some time - since the 1970s, there has been the concept of the “participant viewer” who not only consumes passively but also intervenes in what is happening. Here the visitor triggers something with other visitors. Or in the case of Xavier Le Roy with a dancer. With Gormley we had to join forces to set the structure in motion.

And how do you assess the artistic aspect?

Some people did call White Bouncy Castle just a better inflatable jumper. I disagree. The entire room became an artwork, the perception of the people changed. A huge soft sculpture, which one could not only look at but in which one could move around. Crossing the walkway to Gormly’s free floating level meant entering another sphere. 120,000 visitors came, that was really crazy. That shows that it’s no longer the thing just to look at something from a distance.

How did you feel with Xavier Le Roy - when experiencing the working methods of dancers here in the museum?

I found it quite fascinating to see how the audience was drawn in. And how the dancers linked Xavier’s pieces with narratives from their own biographies as dancers. We learned something about their life and gained the completely new impression that dance is not just highbrow culture. Originally, however, the performance of the pieces with Le Roy had far more tension than in the dancers’ citations. A pity. For that is exactly what is so special about dance, that it can produce this intensity. Visual art is always seeking this kind of presence.

Is dance in this respect a role model for art?

In an abstract way: if you see something that is very intense, very compacted, that can give you an idea for your own art. By way of an aspiration to a power, dimension, vision and precision.

In “Retrospective” Xavier Le Roy hands over his art symbolically to the museum. How do you assess the need to preserve the fleeting art of dance?

Here museums are a step ahead of the dance community. Due to the history of performance art, they are experienced in archiving and documenting time-based art and in establishing the requisite rules and concepts with artists who are still alive. Choreographers seem to give more thought to this aspect. Tino Seghal is a trailblazer here. There are film departments in museums, why not dance departments? However, we don’t want to take dance away from the theatres. Not that, in the end, the avant-garde can only be seen in galleries and museums.