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artists series Lincoln Center - Robert Wilson - KLAUS LUCKA photographer
Opera Director

Robert Wilson
theater artist

Robert Wilson is an internationally acclaimed American avant-garde stage director and playwright who has been called "[America]'s — or even the world's — foremost vanguard 'theater artist'". Over the course of his wide-ranging career, he has also worked as a choreographer, performer, painter, sculptor, video artist, and sound and lighting designer. He is best known for his collaborations with Philip Glass on Einstein on the Beach, and with numerous other artists, including William S. Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, Tom Waits, and David Byrne.

Wilson was born in Waco, Texas, and studied Business Administration at the University of Texas from 1959 to 1962. He moved to Brooklyn in 1963, receiving a BFA in architecture from the Pratt Institute in 1965. He also attended lectures by Sibyl Moholy-Nagy (widow of László Moholy-Nagy), studied painting with George McNeil, and studied architecture with Paolo Soleri in Arizona.

In 1968, Wilson founded an experimental performance company, the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds (named for a dancer who helped him overcome a speech impediment while a teenager). With this company, he created his first major works, beginning with 1969's The King of Spain and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud. He began to work in opera in the early 1970s, creating Einstein on the Beach with Philip Glass, which brought the two artists world-wide fame.

In 1983-1984, Wilson planned a performance for the 1984 Summer Olympics, the CIVIL warS: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down; the complete work was to have been 12 hours long, in 6 parts. The production was only partially completed — the full event was cancelled by the Olympic Arts Festival, due to insufficient funds. In 1986, the Pulitzer Prize jury unanimously selected the CIVIL warS for the drama prize, but the supervisory board rejected the choice and gave no drama award that year.

Wilson is known for pushing the boundaries of theatre. His works are noted for their austere style, very slow movement, and often extreme scale in space or in time. The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin was a 12-hour performance, while KA MOUNTain and GUARDenia Terrace was staged on a mountaintop in Iran and lasted seven days.

In addition to his work for the stage, Wilson creates sculpture, drawings, and furniture designs. He won the Golden Lion at the 1993 Venice Biennale for a sculptural installation.

In 2004, Ali Hossaini offered Wilson a residency at the television channel LAB HD. Since then Wilson has produced dozens of high-definition videos known as the Voom Portraits. Subjects have ranged from royalty and celebrities, including Brad Pitt, to animals, Nobel Prize winners and hobos.

Louis Aragon praised Wilson as: "What we, from whom Surrealism was born, dreamed would come after us and go beyond us".

Robert Wilson in his retreat at his Watermill Center, Long Island

© 2008 Klaus Lucka