When John Cage died in New York Wednesday, the avant-garde composer was at work on “Rolywholyover A Circus,” a project completely characteristic in being utterly individual, rigorous in randomness and almost indescribable. Scheduled at the Museum of Contemporary Art from Sept. 12, 1993, to Nov. 28, 1993, the massive, dynamic exhibition of Cageian materials has already been three years in preparation by the composer and MOCA curator Julie Lazar.
“This will be an unusual walk-through of the 20th Century, as seen through his life. It’s not a retrospective--a retrospective is the show somebody should do 10 or 20 years from now,” Lazar insists. “This show is a living thing, odd as it seems to say that now.”
The show will be essentially a composition for gallery space and artifacts, changing every day according to chance operations devised by Cage, as well as an interactive sound studio and other displays.
“About three years ago, John and I began talking about this project,” said Lazar, speaking from the airport Wednesday as she prepared to depart for New York. “We started to select artists and composers who were important to him, and not the other way around. We came up with a list with approximately 200 visual works on it. The works will appear in the exhibition according to the score he wrote. He chose the last one just last week.”
Lazar initially approached Cage about a permanent, though changing, exhibition. From that concept grew “Rolywholyover A Circus.” The first word of the title comes from James Joyce’s “Finnegan’s Wake,” and the freewheeling circus image is one Cage has used before, notably in “Musicircus” from 1967.
“It was a shared idea,” Lazar says, “but I feel it was very much his work. I just supplied him with the tools or mechanical things with which he did what he did. . . . We spoke only a little while ago, about one of the installations, where we will project drawings from Thoreau in the auditorium. He was doing fine.”
Items for the exhibition have been loaned from more than 20 other museums and collections, and there are plans--still far from definite--for related shows, concerts and seminars at various venues around town. From MOCA, the show is scheduled to travel to Houston, Philadelphia, New York and Japan, with two possible sites in Europe. It will, of course, be different at every stop.