Born in 1941 in (United States)
Lives and works in (United States )
During his adolescence, Robert Wilson appeared in various shows by the Waco Children's Theater and Baylor University Teenage Theater. In 1959, he graduated from Waco High School and registered at the University of Texas (Austin). He began studying business, running workshops for young mentally-disabled people and theatre groups for children. In 1962, he moved to New York and attended courses on architecture and interior design at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, gaining a diploma in 1965.
In New York, he discovered Merce Cunningham and Martha Graham. Graham invited him to attend her classes. Alwin Nikolaïs invited him to work with him and Murray Louis. As a result of this, Robert Wilson ended up creating costumes and decor for multidisciplinary events. In 1963, for WNET-TV, he made an experimental ten-minute film entitled Slant. In 1964, he travelled to Paris where he studied painting with the American abstract painter George McNeil. In the same year, returning to New York, he staged several shows based on movement, light, cinema, costumes and sound. He also designed the decors for Landscapes and Junk Dances by Murray Louis. In 1965, he presented a dance-theatre event (Duricglte & Tomorrow) for the universal exhibition in New York and then designed the decors and costumes for America Hurrah ! by Jean-Claude van Itallie, while continuing to work with handicapped and disturbed children. During the summer, at San Antonio Trinity University, he ran a course on painting and movement which led to two shows in Waco, including Modern Dance, a parody of Miss America.
In 1966 in New York, he created two ballets (Clorox, Opus 2) and taught at the American Theater Laboratory. He contributed to the project by Paolo Soleri, a visionary architect, for the construction of a utopian community in Arizona. Returning to New York in 1967, he rented a loft previously occupied by Joseph Cakin's Open Theater. Very quickly, he gathered a collective round him and ran performance workshops, living on his pay as a specialized teacher with the Department of Welfare and the New York Board of Education, teaching in New York and New Jersey. Robert Wilson mixed the lessons of his work with mentally-handicapped people and his practise of dance, theatre and the plastic arts. In his loft workshop, a heterogeneous group came together, "Byrd Hoffman" (from the name of the dancer who freed the young Wilson from a speech impediment). This group accompanied him in his early shows.
In 1968, in Ohio, he created Poles, an 8 m2 structure of telephone poles aligned in a field. In New York, he formed a duo with the choreograph and composer Meredith Monk in Alley Cats. The same year, he invented the "byrdwoman" and created the show Byrd woMAN in New York. In 1969, again with the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, he produced Le Roi d'Espagne in a decor made up of three large stages: a beach, a Victorian drawing room and a cave. With this work, Robert Wilson began to compose an entanglement of theatrical images in which light and time were vital elements. He then quickly produced The Life Times of Sigmund Freud (1969), a four-hour hybrid show involving dance, theatre and the plastic arts. Since Le Roi d'Espagne, he had been using drawing to compose his decors.
In 1970 at the University Theater in Iowa City, he created Deafman Glance, which would later be restaged in Nancy, Rome, Paris and Amsterdam. With this show, Robert Wilson achieved international recognition and received the 1970 Drama Desk Award for direction and the French Critics' Prize for the best foreign show. Robert Wilson creates the furniture and objects in his shows himself. They have an essential place in his work. The chairs are designed as sculptures and were first seen in 1969 in The Life Times of Sigmund Freud. In 1970, he directed an epic show lasting seven days: KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE. In 1973 in New York, he presented King Lyre and Lady in the Wasteland with Elaine Luthy, and then produced The Life and Time of Joseph Stalin which was played in Copenhagen, New York and São Paulo. In 1974, the Musée Galliéra in Paris organized an exhibition entitled Robert Wilson: Dessins et Sculptures. In Rome, Washington D.C. and Milan, in collaboration with Christopher Knowles, Robert Wilson staged Dia Log / A Mad Man A Mad Giant A Mad Dog A Mad Urge A Mad Face, followed by A Letter From Queen Victoria. In 1975, in New York, the duo continued their work together with A Solo Reading, The $ Value of Man and Dia Log (2). he ended the year in Bonn with To Street: one Man Show.
In early 1976, in collaboration with the sculptor Ralph Hilton, he created Spaceman (The Kitchen, New York). The work is a structure in the form of a parallelepiped visible on all its surfaces, made of wood and translucent plastic, with people and objects inside, including a wall of video monitors. Spaceman was restaged in 1984 at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam as part of the exhibition The Luminous Image. Some of the elements in the work later found their way into Einstein on the Beach, produced with Philip Glass.
In 1977, with Lucinda Childs, he directed I Was Sitting On My Patio This Guy Appeared I Thought I Was Hallucinating. The following year, with music by Alan Lloyd, Keith Jarret and Randy Newman, he presented the piece Death Destruction and Detroit, a Play With Music in 2 Acts / a love story in 16 scenes, and then, in 1979, Edison with music by Michael Riesman. Since 1976, Robert Wilson has regularly exhibited his drawings and sculptures in various galleries.
In 1980, at the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, Ohio, Robert Stearns organized the exhibition Robert Wilson: From a Theater of Images, which brought together sculptures, stage backdrops, a selection of drawings and Video 50 which had just been produced by the Centre Georges Pompidou. After this exhibition, Robert Wilson began regularly presenting the drawings for his projects. he continued his work in video: Deafman Glance (1981), Stations (1982), Mr. Bojangles' Memory (1991) and various productions like La Femme à la cafetière (1989), The Death of King Lear for Spanish television (1989), Don Juan ultimo (1992), The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark (produced by the INA and la Sept / Arte in 1994).
From 1981 to 1998, Robert Wilson staged a large number of plays and operas throughout the world - as well as restaging some of his pieces - including The CIVIL warS: a Tree is Best Measured When it is Down (1981), Great Day in the Morning (1982) with Jessye Norman, Médée (1984), King Lear (1985), Euripides' Alceste (1986) and Hamletmachine (1986) by Heiner Müller, The Man in the Raincoat to music by Laurie Anderson, Strauss's Salomé (1987), Cosmopolitan Greetings (1988) with a text by Allan Ginsberg, Orlondo (1989), Friedrich Laun et Thomas de Quincey (1990) with a text by W.S. Burrought and music by Tom Waits, La Maladie de la mort (1991) by Marguerite Duras, Mozart's La Flûte enchantée (1991), Alice (1992) by Lewis Carroll with music by Tom Waits, Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights (1992) by Gertrud Stein, Time Rocker (1996) with music by Lou Reed, White Raven (1998) with music by Philip Glass...
He was similarly prolific in terms of plastic exhibitions. In 1987, Memory of a Revolution corresponded to a commission by a museum in Stuttgart to commemorate the French Revolution. In 1991, a second retrospective established the reputation of the artist's plastic work (Robert Wilson's Vision, Boston). He worked on the space receiving his work and managed the theatrical aspect of the visitor's route through it. At the end of that year, the Centre Georges Pompidou presented Mr. Bojangles' Memory : og son of fire, a project making use of all the multiple facets of his work which took the visitor on an extravagant journey through it. In 1992, a monumental sculpture by Bob Wilson was installed in Hamburg on the Alster. In 1993, following in the footsteps of Harald Szeemann and Peter Greenaway, he was chosen to organize the third presentation of the permanent collection of the Boymans-van Beuningen Museum in Rotterdam (Portrait, Still Life, Landscape). For the Venice Biennale in 1993, he created Memory / Loss which won him the Golden Lion for sculpture. At the Akira Ikeda Gallery in New York, he presented Three Rooms, three spaces devoted to the four elements. In 1995, in an old prison in London, along with Hans Peter Kuhn and Michael Howells, he constructed a series of "tableaux" entitled H.G. which dramatized the visual space by means of lighting and decors. In 1997, he produced an installation for the centenary of the Villa Stuck in Munich.
In 1992, Robert Wilson founded The Watermill Center in a large industrial building acquired in 1980; since then, he has devoted himself to setting up a Centre for aesthetic studies, application and creation.