Adrian Piper Dance Lessons, curated by Lauren Walter, is the University of Florida’s first solo exhibition of canonical artist Adrian Piper’s work. This contemporary, African-American artist is a pioneer of conceptual art, who has profoundly shaped the field through her diversification of art practices and introduction of feminist, post-colonial, and black histories into conceptual art. Piper centers a significant part of her artistic production on art’s catalytic potential, employing her work to combat racism, sexism, and xenophobia. Adrian Piper Dance Lessons features recordings of two of Piper’s audience-interactive performances: Funk Lessons (1983) at the University of California, Berkeley and Shiva Dances (2004) at the Art Institute of Chicago.
Within Funk Lessons is a two-prong argument. First, Piper critiques the commonly-held belief that race is a biological given and uses dance to illustrate that race is, in fact, a social construct. Additionally, she argues that the ability to dance is not a biological given, but a matter of community and practice. In other words, dance can be learned by anyone. In this University of California, Berkeley iteration, Piper begins by teaching her largely white audience about funk. Originating in the mid-1960s with James Brown, funk music is a rhythm-driven fusion of soul music, jazz, and rhythm and blues. The genre quickly became a symbol of Black pride during the Civil Rights Movement for its celebration of African-inspired beats. Like many contributions to black culture, funk was overlooked and in an act of cultural racism, not accepted as part of American culture. However, by teaching her spectators about the genre, Piper asserts the genre’s significance, inserts it into its rightful place in American culture, and at the same time provides her audience with the opportunity to unlearn their cultural biases. At the end of Piper’s lecture, she holds a simple dance lesson, which over time transforms into improvisational movement and expression, allowing the audience to process through dance.
Similar to Funk Lessons, in Shiva Dances, Piper is at once educator, dance teacher, and artist. In this Art Institute of Chicago performance, she grounds Shiva Dances with a projection of Funk Lessons, explicitly linking the two works in their structure and ambitions. In both works, dance is at the root of Piper’s methodology. But why dance in particular? Dance is often characterized by racist stereotypes about who can and cannot do specific types of dance moves, thus providing the perfect medium to challenge such assumptions. As Piper’s largely white audiences dance, they resist the stereotype that only black people can dance. As Piper explains in Funk Lessons, who can and cannot dance is of course, not based on race but on practice. Moreover, dance is a medium that allows Piper to hone in on issues without being confrontational. Finally, her actual dance lesson does not exclude people through difficult movement, but rather includes everyone through simple and approachable movements. Piper affirms in her discussion of Funk Lessons, “My immediate aim in staging the large-scale performance … was to enable everyone present to GET DOWN AND PARTY. TOGETHER.”
Together Funk Lessons and Shiva Dances, testify to Piper’s ongoing exploration of the ways in which art can generate social and political advances. Through these works, Piper illustrates that just as our bodies are our tools for dancing, we are also the tools for generating change and fighting racism. Programmed in the spring of 2020, Adrian Piper Dance Lessons provides an opportunity to view both Funk Lessons and Shiva Dances in the midst of racial justice demonstrations across the world, Black Lives Matter protests surrounding the murder of George Floyd and police brutality, and a growing movement to end systemic racism. Viewing Piper’s works through the lens of the current political climate adds new meaning while reminding us that Pipers works, too, function as political protest, and that they are just as necessary today as when they were originally carried out.
Gallery visitors will have a chance to view the recordings of Piper’s performances in an intimate setting, allowing for contemplation and discussion of her work. The recordings will play daily, on a loop, so that visitors can watch one performance recording after another. Adrian Piper Dance Lessons will be on view from September 10, 2020–October 2, 2020.
This exhibition is second in the series “On View: Curatorial Studies,” which features art exhibitions curated by SA+AH graduate students.
UG is grateful to Adrian Piper’s studio for generously sharing recordings of Piper’s performances.
 Adrian Piper, “Notes on Funk,” in Participation: Documents of Contemporary Art, ed. Claire Bishop (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2006), 130.
About University Galleries
University Galleries is comprised of three art galleries that play an integral role in the teaching mission of the School of Art + Art History, College of the Arts at the University of Florida, as well as serving the entire UF and Gainesville community.
University Gallery (UG) UG’s primary mission is to provide the greater Gainesville community with a contemporary venue that explores new directions in visual art, incorporating historical perspectives as well. UG collaborates with myriad UF colleges, community and regional entities in creating a trans-disciplinary venue for artwork that is relevant to education at UF, and the greater north-central Florida region. Exhibitions feature nationally/internationally known artists, a studio art faculty exhibition, and MFA graduating thesis project exhibitions.
Gary R. Libby Gallery presents art exhibitions that are organized by graduate student curators, in conjunction with the director of the galleries, providing an opportunity for students to learn experientially about curation, exhibition design, and presentation, and visitors to view professionally presented shows that primarily feature contemporary art.
Constance and Linton Grinter Gallery of International Art presents exhibitions organized by graduate student curators, in conjunction with the director of the galleries that feature international and multicultural artworks. This venue allows graduate students to learn experientially about curation and exhibition design, and visitors to experience art and artifacts from across world cultures.
Daytime parking is available in reserved spaces between Fine Arts Building C (FAC) and Inner Road. From SW 13th Street, enter campus on Museum Drive. Turn right on Newell Drive, then right on Inner Road. Turn left into the parking lot behind FAC. The first three spaces on the left are reserved for gallery use. Parking permits are issued to gallery visitors in the University Gallery.
The College of the Arts is one of the 16 colleges and more than 150 research centers and institutes at the University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. The College of the Arts offers baccalaureate, master’s and Ph.D. degree programs in its three institutionally-accredited schools — the School of Art + Art History, School of Music and School of Theatre + Dance. The college is home to the Center for Arts in Medicine, Center for Arts and Public Policy, Center for World Arts, Digital Worlds Institute, University Galleries and the New World School of the Arts in Miami. More than 100 faculty members and approximately than 1,200 students work together daily to engage, inspire and create. The college hosts more than 300 performances, exhibitions and events each year. Faculty and students also exhibit and perform at other local, national and international venues. To learn more, visit www.arts.ufl.edu.