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Robert Wilson
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Robert Wilson

The New York Times described Robert Wilson as “a towering figure in the world of experimental theater”. Wilson’s works integrate a wide variety of artistic media, combining movement, dance, lighting, furniture design, sculpture, music and text into a unified whole. His images are aesthetically striking and emotionally charged, and his productions have earned the acclaim of audiences and critics worldwide.
Wilson’s awards and honors include two Guggenheim Fellowship awards (’71 and ’80), the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship award (‘75), the nomination for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama (’86), the Golden Lion for sculpture from the Venice Biennale (’93), the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for lifetime achievement (’96), the Premio Europa award from Taormina Arte (’97), election to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (’00), the National Design Award for lifetime achievement (’01), and Commandeur des arts et des letters (’02).

A native of Waco, Texas, Wilson was educated at the University of Texas and arrived in New York in 1963 to attend Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute. Soon thereafter Wilson set to work with his Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds and together with this school developed his first signature works. In 1969 two of Wilson’s major productions appeared in New York City: The King of Spain at the Anderson Theater, and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In 1971 Wilson received international acclaim for Deafman Glance, a silent “opera” created in collaboration with Raymond Andrews, a talented deaf-mute boy whom Wilson had adopted. After the Paris premiere of the work, French Surrealist Louis Aragon wrote of Wilson, “he is what we, from whom Surrealism was born, dreamed would come after us and go beyond us”.

Regarded as a leader in Manhattan’s burgeoning avant-garde, Wilson turned his attention to large-scale opera and, with Philip Glass, created the monumental Einstein on the Beach (’76) which achieved world-wide acclaim and altered conventional notions of a moribund form. The production, presented at the Festival d’Avignon and at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, has since been revived in two world tours in 1984 and 1992. After Einstein Wilson worked increasingly with European theaters and opera houses. In collaboration with internationally renowned writers and performers, Wilson created landmark original works that were featured regularly at the Festival d'Automne in Paris, the Schaubühne in Berlin, the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, and the Salzburg Festival. At the Schaubühne he created Death Destruction & Detroit (‘79) and Death Destruction & Detroit II (‘87); and at the Thalia he presented the groundbreaking musical works The Black Rider (’91) and Alice (’92).
In the early 1980's Wilson developed what still stands as his most ambitious project: the multinational epic the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down. Created in collaboration with an international group of artists, Wilson planned this opera as the centerpiece of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles. Although the full epic was never seen in its entirety, individual parts have been produced in the United States, Europe and Japan.

Over the last two decades Wilson has brought his specific sensibility to light, space and movement to the standard dramatic and operatic repertoire. He has designed and directed operas at houses such as La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan Opera in New York, and Opéra Bastille in Paris, the Zurich Opera, the Hamburg State Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, and the Houston Grand Opera. These include Wagner's Parsifal (Hamburg, 1991), Mozart's The Magic Flute (Paris, 1991-99), Wagner's Lohengrin (Zürich, 1991; New York, 1998), Puccini's Madame Butterfly (Paris, 1993-98; Bologna, 1996; Hammamatsu, 1999; Amsterdam, 2003; Los Angeles, 2004), and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande (Salzburg, 1997; Paris 2004) . He has presented innovative adaptations of works by writers such as Virginia Woolf, Henrik Ibsen and Gertrude Stein. He worked with artists such as Heiner Müller, Tom Waits, William S. Burroughs, David Byrne, Lou Reed, Allen Ginsberg Laurie Anderson, Jessye Norman and Susan Sontag.
Wilson recently completed an entirely new production, based on an epic poem from Indonesia, entitled I La Galigo, which toured extensively and appeared at the Lincoln Center Festival in the summer of 2005.
Wilson continues to direct revivals of his most celebrated productions, including The Black Rider in London, San Francisco, and Sydney, Australia, The Temptation of St. Anthony in New York and Barcelona, Erwartung in Berlin, Madama Butterfly at the Bolshoi Opera in Moscow, and Wagner’s The Ring at Le Chatelet in Paris.

Wilson's practice is firmly rooted in the fine arts and his drawings, furniture designs, and installations have been shown in museums and galleries internationally. Extensive retrospectives have been presented at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris and the Boston Museum of Fine Arts. He has mounted installations at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, London's Clink Street Vaults and the Guggenheim Museums in New York and Bilbao. His extraordinary tribute to Isamu Noguchi has been exhibited most recently at the Seattle Art Museum and his installation of the Guggenheim’s Giorgio Armani retrospective traveled to London, Rome and Tokyo. In 2007, Paula Cooper Gallery and Phillips de Pury & Co in New York held exhibitions of his most recent artistic venture, the VOOM Portraits, with subjects including Gao Xingjian, Winona Ryder, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Brad Pitt. The exhibition then opened at ACE Gallery in Los Angeles, in Naples and Spoleto. His drawings, prints, videos and sculpture are held in private collections and museums throughout the world. He is represented by the Paula Cooper Gallery in New York City.

Each summer Wilson hosts students and professional artists from around the world at the International Summer Arts Program at the Watermill Center in eastern Long Island – an interdisciplinary laboratory for the arts and humanities, of which he is the artistic director and founder. In July of 2006, the Watermill Center dedicated a brand new building on its grounds, including rehearsal spaces, dormitories and residences, and inaugurated a year-round programming schedule.
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