The Installation

First, we had to take down nearly all of the permanent collection. Most of the galleries looked like this:
Then the crew began painting walls, installing electronic equipment, and doing various other preparatory tasks to get ready for the portraits' arrival.
They even installed carpet in the North Gallery just for the exhibition. For the Winona Ryder projection, a special (and spendy) "screen goo" was applied to the wall. Finally, after months of preparation, on Friday, Jan. 25, the crates arrived.
The crew was pleased that they were on wheels. So easy to move!
The crates were placed in the galleries where we planned to install them.
A crew of installers from VOOM HD Networks and Robert Wilson arrived over the weekend of Jan. 25 and began getting the screens out of their boxes and onto the walls. Now, the galleries look something like this:
Be sure to stop by the Museum to see the full show -- it really looks fantastic!

More photographs from Deafman

These are images from Deafman Glance rehearsals at the UI. Photos and captions courtesy of Mel Andringa at CSPS.
Mel Andringa works on the Goat-Woman's house in the middle ground. Sue Sheehy, the waitress Wilson recruited for the performance, is sweeping the stage next to the prscenium. The guy in longjohns is Michael Eilenfeld, a multi-media graduate student. Sitting in a seat in the auditorium facing the camera is Seth Tomasini, son of UI Professor of Art History Wallace Tomasini.

This is a rehearsal for the murder scene with Raymond Andrews (center) and Sheryl Sutton, who played his mother. Wilson is standing behind them, partially obscured. The man leaning against the wall is unknown.
This is a rehearsal with the bin people and the ox followers. The boy with his hand on the ox is unknown. On the right is Carroll Dunn.

That's Bob in the middle. Cindy Lubar is behind him. Carroll Dunn is the standing man with the goatee, and the woman seated on the floor in the lower left is Scotty Snyder. Scotty was originally from Iowa and lived in Summit, New Jersey. She knew both Bob and Hans Breder through classes at the Summit Art Center and may have introduced them.
Here Raymond Andrews is posing with John D'Archengelo (Pink Angel), a 'ghost' or gray figure, a gorilla, the giant rabbit, and the ox who swallows the sun.

Of Electronics, Strikes, and French Paint

Matt Shattuck is the Exhibition Manager/Producer for VOOM PORTRAITS Robert Wilson -- which means he is one of the people many of us here at the UIMA have been communicating with via email for months, and are just now getting to meet as he is in town to help install the exhibition. Here, Matt talks about installing VOOM all over the world, from Russia and Italy to New York and L.A. -- and now Iowa!

First off I want to thank all the great people at UIMA who've worked so hard to make this exhibition so welcomed and the installation so smooth. It's the biggest and most complete exhibition of these video portraits to-date and there's no way it could have been done without the unbelievable support of all in Iowa.

Personally, the most gratifying part of producing this exhibition is not only traveling to places I haven't been before, but also working "hands on" with talented and motivated people the world over. It's one thing to visit new places, but another to spend long exhausting days building such an intricate exhibition with great people, who sometimes don't speak a lick of English. It all brings humanity to a very simple and personal level. It makes you realize how people the world over are basically the same because our core interests are the same.

I have great memories of taking espresso breaks (the miniature high octane espresso delivered by a guy in a paper hat mind you) in Naples with a fun-loving group of Italians, or Neapolitans as they would correct me. Or the technical marvel and precision at which the Russians would rig the hardware to hang a 250lb plasma from a 200 year-old marble wall. Or a guy in LA happily spending 2 days in a dusty crawl space in the ceiling so we could wire our equipment properly. And now working with such a talented group of people at UIMA is another great experience. The organization, commitment and execution from all the people here will indeed make this exhibition a memorable one.

In many ways this exhibition is very predictable because the moving parts are always the same. Yet on the other hand, there are lots of variables surrounding these predictable moving parts that change every time, providing both the stress and fun part of the job. Like trying to source a specific type of projection paint in Moscow and finding out the only place we can buy it is in France. And then finding out the real problem is not sourcing it but finding a way to get it cleared through Russian customs in time. Or delicately negotiating with an iron worker in Naples to reconstruct stands he perfectly built after we changed our spec at the last minute. Or in every case trying not to get thrown out the window by our supportive crew after we determine for the umpteenth time a screen has to be repositioned. My favorite was the entire trucking industry in Italy going on strike the day all of our equipment was to be picked up and flown back to the US. Somehow (read: I don't want to know) we managed to have a police car escort our truck during a midnight pickup so that we could get our 9.5 tons of gear transported as planned. However, I can say the work done before we arrived and general attention to detail from UIMA's fine team has most definitely made this installation incredibly professional and smooth.

We are most honored to bring this exhibition to UIMA and sincerely hope the university and community will benefit from and enjoy it.

Thank you all very much.

Matthew Shattuck
Exhibition Manager / Producer
VOOM Portraits Robert Wilson


The Byrds

This photo from Mel Andringa at CSPS/Legion Arts was taken at Wilson's Spring Street Loft in New York in 1972. Pictured are Wilson's group of performers, called the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds (named after a dancer who helped Wilson overcome a speech impediment when he was a teenager). Many of these Byrds worked on Deafman Glance in Iowa.

A letter from a Byrd

Sue Sheehy currently lives in Oskaloosa, IA, but in 1970, she was a waitress in Iowa City -- and one of those normal people Robert Wilson pulled of the streets to be a part of his production. This picture is of her in New York at Wilson's Spring Street Loft in 1971. She caught wind of Robert Wilson's upcoming visit and the UIMA blog and wrote us a note. Here it is, and if there are any other people out there who remember Wilson's initial visit to the UI, we'd love to hear from you!

Mel Andringa gave me your email address and the UIMA blog spot on Robert Wilson and Deafman Glance. I must say the stories on this brought back many fond memories.

I was the waitress in Deafman Glance, and Bob Wilson found me working at Henry’s Restaurant, which was across the street from the Old Capital in Iowa City. When I was approached, I thought Bob was pulling my leg…Me in a play to be presented at the University?!! I had no theatre training and wasn’t a student. Someone who I worked with was from New York City and a U of I student, assured me Bob was on the level. He was a guest artist at the university.

I went to my first rehearsal with trepidation. I wasn’t sure what to expect. But I’ve never regretted going. Bob put me at ease immediately. My impression and memory of the production of Deafman Glance was one of peace and tranquility. When it was over, I made plans to go to New York City to be in the production there. I went there for a two week vacation and stayed for 37 years. When I arrived in NYC, Bob and Mel met me at the Port of Authority dressed as gorillas. I worked with Bob for the next five years. He inspired me to write and do my own plays in that time. He gave me the opportunity to see some amazing countries….France, Iran, Holland, and South America.

Shortly after I arrived in NYC, I wrote a book about Bob, the people I met through him, and about being in Deafman Glance in Iowa City and New York City. I feel that I owe my life to Bob Wilson. He helped me to believe in myself and try new things.

I’m looking forward to seeing his portrait videos at CSPS and seeing him on February 1st.

Sue Sheehy


Notes from Deafman Glance

Courtesy of Mel Andringa over at CSPS/Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids, here are some of Robert Wilson's notes from his production of Deafman Glance here at the University of Iowa in 1970.

A few things caught my eye in reading this through: 1) The mention of the child who threw a brick through a window in Summit -- that would be Raymond Andrews, the deaf-mute boy who originally inspired Deafman. 2) Wilson quoting dancer Isadora Duncan. According to Andringa, Wilson's support of Duncan's methods caused a bit of trouble with the UI Dance Department in 1970. Duncan's rejection of ballet's formal rigidity in favor of improvisation, bare feet, and loose costumery angered the dance establishment in the early 1900s but secured her place as one of the inventors of Modern dance. She was a key influence for Wilson's work. 3) The repetition of certain words, particularly -ing verbs, in the second to last paragraph. Wilson wasn't so much interested in language as linear communication, but instead as a rhythmic or compositional element -- he used words much like he used lighting or set design to create a mood or experience rather than a coherent narrative.

Here are the notes:

-- Ezra Pound

Iowa City
Notes: December, 1970

It was two yrs. ago September. The child threw a brick thru a window as I was going to an ART class in Summit on my way I saw the judge with his eyes closed about to hit him as the mother pressed her hand against his head I wrawl on his back to relieve the pain he was 10 years old September. The line out my window leads to the Sun, the ox, the child, and to all of us becoming worms. At Pratt I wrote my thesis on designing an imaginary cathedral or a fewture city perhaps. Then there was a murder, a murder in the eyes at the top of the cathedral two yrs. ago September as the red dog howled into the moon light son notta wink! Only the bones can tell.

Running together. We caught each other. Falling. Standing still still we fell into each other falling into a wall walling again and again and again again I talked of Isadora Duncan. . .



Then I read Stein to class then gave a reading list:
Jill Johnston
Angela Davis
National Enquirer
Edgar Cayce

And how it hurt seeing the dance program wishing the fishing the kids kidding could for a minute read the list knowing that we all cannot being kidded liking like Sheryl take taking five minutes meaning only to put on the glove only her fingers moved waiting motionless for ten minutes waiting meaning to begin the film. Geeze, she’s a star!

And Andy just brought the Requiem by chance he said, knowing all along he would add the final peace Art then said he would follow following few fewer futures. HOPE has a vision. There’s a boy in the East seven tonight midnight that will lead the world for a few times. It’s in the stars an old woman wrote on the wall at the bus station not by chance, oh no, fewture following few fews fuses. S. K. moved six hours continuously while we sold Art Cindy wrote of her peace in the Orange state they were walking hands, turned upheld, held In Circles for seven hours thru the night Terry writes he’s getting a piece of his too and may make a presentation in the spring, he’s not only 14. No doubt about it, he’s a star! There are 14 cows out my window. Only their heads move. Jerry wrote me of a beautiful dream. The lion’s leader leads to the Sun, the East, the son, the child. The broken arched windowed woman’s house sinks as the death child sings an onion sliced in two (his) particulars. a don’t a men.

Byrd hoffMAN
(ten years ago wooooooooooooo)

Catching up with the Circus

This entry from Mel Andringa, producing director of CSPS/Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids:

"When I was a graduate student at the University of Iowa in 1970, there was an interdisciplinary program called the Center for New Performing Arts. At least five departments were involved, including Music, Dance, Art, Theater, Film and the Writers Workshop, and each department lent a faculty member to the project. As an art student, I signed up for CNPA’s “Intermedia” workshops with students from the other departments. A big part of the program was residencies by visiting artists, and I had a work-study job assisting them with their projects. I think I got assigned to help Robert Wilson because I was the only art student with some theater experience, and even though Wilson was primarily a theater artist, he had been invited by Hans Breder, an assistant professor in the School of Art.

"We met at the old Mill Restaurant on Burlington (a couple of blocks east of its current incarnation). Bob was a tall guy in a black leather jacket, jeans and a white shirt. He had short black hair and wore tinted glasses. He didn’t make small talk, but spoke softly with his head tilted slightly to the left and described his project in precise if fantastic detail. There would be a deaf black boy, who would witnesses the murder of his siblings by his mother, and enter a forest landscape and sit on a bench and fish from a pile of dirt. The bench would levitate and strange scenes would happen beneath him including a banquet presided over by a frog in a tuxedo drinking martinis. There would be many characters like a pope and a goat-woman, and the whole silent opera would conclude with the earth breaking up and swallowing up everyone, who would be replaced by giant apes holding apples while one of them plays a harp.

"As he talked he drew a diagram of the action on a piece of cardstock with a red magic marker (it’s the only souvenir I have of his visit). I didn’t know what to make of it. I was totally unequipped to imagine how we would get the resources to realize his vision. We were supposed to do this in the ballroom at the student union, and I remember thinking maybe we could do something with projections or flat architectural drawings of trees on plastic drop cloths. But flying benches and palm trees that grow, and a house that get tall and burns and sinks into the ground? How could it happen?

"But Bob had jobs for me the next day and I began doing whatever he asked. The first item of business was to build interest in the big project through an event at the Museum of Art. It was to be called Handbill and we were going to use the entire building as a set for it.

"Bob assured me we would have plenty of help when the ‘Byrds’ (associates of his from New York) began arriving. So we started recruiting local performers for workshops. Members of a Grotowski-based experimental theater group were some of our first takers, although in the end they became disgruntled with the task-like actions they were asked to perform. Bob went to the Dance department to recruit people but wound up offending the director by singing the praises of Isadora Duncan. He started picking up people on the street and in restaurants, art faculty, wives and kids.

"And the Byrds did migrate to us, strangely ordinary people with peculiar gifts and a singular focus to make Bob’s work materialize.

"Rehearsals at the River City Free Trade Zone (a defunct hippy emporium that was a predecessor to the Hall Mall) consisted of long sessions of open dancing to Dylan and Melanie. We watched an hour-long film of nude and clothed people moving in slow motion on dunes covered with beach grass, and learned to do their simple seven part movements. Nobody knew what they would be doing in the eventual production. Cast and crew, everyone danced. In rehearsals, everyone seemed like a walk-on and nobody was being asked to display their skills, just themselves. This disturbed people who were defined by their skills.

"The event at the museum was a ‘happening’. Abstract, constructivist, post-modern and avant-garde, you name it. A flutist played endless looping melodies. The floor of the basement gallery was covered with straw and a man in a hat and a raccoon coat leaned into a wire stretched across the room, to the accompaniment of Alley Cats, a novelty pop song. Upstairs groups of people in wheat colored clothes grazed the galleries like sheep on their hands and knees. Others made haystacks and danced. A 70-year old woman did stretching movements on a cherry picker in the sculpture court. Dead fish dusted in yellow powder with red strings in their mouths were displayed on the Elliot Silver Collection. And on a white sheet on the lawn outside, well out of earshot, an angry actress performed Medea.

"All in all it was a success de scandal, and shortly thereafter resources started opening up for the big production. The theater reluctantly offered its main stage and costumer, and on and on, piece by piece the production began to materialize.

"As the liaison between Bill Hibbard the director of the CNPA and Wilson, I was pushed and pulled in two directions but my loyalties were won over by the vision. I clearly remember crossing that line, when on more than one occasion I signed requisitions without explicit approval from Bill for things that Bob said were essential to the production. In the end, everyone agreed Deafman Glance was a magical event that changed several lives forever. And one month later, skipping graduation ceremonies, I ran away to the Big Apple to catch up with the circus."

-- Mel Andringa, producing director, CSPS/Legion Arts, Cedar Rapids

Check back soon for more pictures from Deafman and Handbill!


Deafman Glance photos

This is considered the "iconic" image from Robert Wilson's Deafman Glance production, taken by Martin Bough in 1971. More info and photos coming soon!


Where the Deafman Glanced -- How the UI helped Jump Start a Career

With Robert Wilson visiting Iowa in a few weeks to give a performance (Jan. 31) in advance of the opening of his VOOM PORTRAITS exhibition at the UI Museum of Art and CSPS (Feb. 2-March 30), this is the perfect chance to take a look back -- and discover how the UI played a really important role in Wilson's early career.

It was 1970, and due to combination of cultural forces and energetic personalities, the University of Iowa was the place to be for artistic people. A matching grant from the Rockefeller Foundation had recently helped to created both the Center for New Music (1966-present) and the Center for New Performing Arts (1969-1970). Owen and Leone Elliott of Cedar Rapids offered the University their extensive collection of 20th-century paintings, prints, antique silver and jade on the condition that a Museum be built to house their gift -- so along with the University's existing fine art collection (which included works like Jackson Pollock's Mural), the Elliott collection found a home in a new building adjacent to the School of Art and Art History. The music complex that includes Voxman Music Building, Clapp Recital Hall and Hancher Auditorium was also built around this time.

Numerous new programs, building initiatives, and monetary donations such as these led to a flowering of unprecedented support for artistic experimentation at the UI in the 1970s. This was an environment in which the arts -- and artists -- thrived.

Enter: Robert Wilson. Born in Waco, Texas, this young artist had made his way out of the south to New York, where he studied architecture, design and dance, among other things, and began to develop an innovative interdisciplinary approach to theater. And in 1970, he was invited to be a resident with the Center for New Performing Arts at the UI.

Mel Andringa, currently the producing director of Legion Arts in Cedar Rapids, was an graduate intermedia student in the School of Art and Art History at the time, and because of his theater background, he was assigned to aid Wilson while he was in town.

Wilson's main project while he was here was to produce a theatrical work called Deafman Glance. The production was called a silent opera — through a string of non-verbal pictures and stories accompanied by music, Wilson presented a view of the world through a deaf man’s eyes.

Much of Wilson’s inspiration for Deafman came out his work with Raymond Andrews, a deaf-mute black boy who Wilson adopted in 1968 after rescuing him from an altercation with the police in Summit, New Jersey. He began encouraging the then-11-year-old Andrews to communicate through drawings and body language, and these images and movements eventually formed the basis for Deafman Glance.

To find actors for the production, Wilson cast his net much wider than to just theater majors. Part of Andringa's job was to help Wilson in this venture, a bit of an adjustment to how he had previously viewed theater.

"The job was a much more enveloping kind of occupation than a work study would have been," Andringa said. "Wilson was wandering around the city finding waitresses to be in the production...Wilson’s style of performing was very communal. He was treating everybody the same, including non-trained actors. He was working outside the normal ways that opera and theater were made. I had to give up pretty much all of my own notions about what theater was."

Deafman Glance debuted on the stage of E.C. Mabie Theatre -- which Wilson will return to for his Jan. 31 performance in conjunction with the VOOM PORTRAITS Robert Wilson exhibition at the UIMA Feb. 2-March 30. Deafman went on to win Robert Wilson international acclaim, earning him praise from critic Louis Aragon as the culmination of Surrealism. "This is not Surrealism at all," he wrote in 1971. "It is what we, from whom Surrealism was born, dreamed it would become after us, beyond us."

And Mel Andringa? Well, he continued to travel and work with Wilson for a number of years. We'll be hearing from him about his experiences next week!

Photograph of Robert Wilson: © 2007 Lesley Leslie-Spinks


The Beginning

As soon as we heard about Robert Wilson's new video portrait project, we thought it would be a great show for the UIMA. And we just happened to have a big spot in our schedule for Spring 2008. So we were immediately in touch with RW's organization to inquire about whether they might be available. Wilson had a residency at the University of Iowa many years ago -- and created his breakthrough piece, Deafman Glance, here at the University. Wilson's former assistant, Mel Andringa, is Producing Director of CSPS in Cedar Rapids, so we got Mel involved as well. A number of emails later, we were set up to show these pieces starting in February of 2008. In the intervening time, we have had a visit from Noah Khoshbin to check out the space, arranged for all kind of marketing and publicity for the show, and prepared the Museum as well as we can for installing the video monitors. With a lot of generous support from sponsors in Iowa City and Cedar Rapids, it all seems to be underway. We have to have special electrical circuits installed, lots of new walls in the Museum, we've put away all of our own painting collection, and are even putting down carpet in some galleries just for the show.

Stay in touch with us over the next few month to hear aobut how a show like this gets installed, gets opened, how we communicate about it with visitors, and how they react.

-- Howard Creel Collinson, UIMA Director

Image: Zhang Huan, Artist, 2004, high-definition video
VOOM PORTRAITS Robert Wilson is commissioned and produced by VOOM HD Networks


Welcome to "Art Matters," the official blog for the University of Iowa Museum of Art. For the next few months, we're going to dedicate this blog completely to our upcoming exhibition, VOOM PORTRAITS Robert Wilson, which will be on display at the UIMA Feb. 2 - March 30. Here, you'll find weekly updates about the installation of the exhibition, notes from those involved in putting together the portraits, feedback from viewers, and more. For basic information on the show, check out our website, www.uiowa.edu/uima. Please don't hesitate to let us know if there's anything else you want to know about this incredible show, and we hope you'll visit us at the Museum while it's up!