Simone Forti

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Simone Forti
Simone Forti.jpg
Simone Forti speaking at Beyond Baroque Literary Arts Center, Los Angeles.
Born Simone Forti
Residence Los Angeles, CA
Nationality Italian American
Occupation Artist
Known for Work in Postmodern Dance
Religion Jewish
Spouse(s) Robert Morris (1955-1962)
Robert Whitman (1962-1968)
Peter Van Riper (1974-1981)

Simone Forti (born 1935), is an Italian American Postmodern artist, dancer, choreographer, and writer. Since the 1950's, Forti has exhibited, performed, and taught workshops all over the world, including performances at the Louvre in Paris, the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles.[1] Her innovations in Postmodern dance, including her seminal 1961 body of work, Dance Constructions, along with her contribution to the early Fluxus movement, have influenced many notable artists, including dancer/artist Yvonne Rainer and the Judson Dance Theater in New York.[1][2] Forti has worked alongside artists and composers Nam June Paik, Steve Paxton, La Monte Young, Trisha Brown, Charlemagne Palestine, Peter Van Riper, Yoshi Wada, and Robert Morris, among many others. Forti’s published books include Handbook in Motion (1974, The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design), Angel (1978, self-published), and Oh Tongue (2003, Beyond Baroque Books).[1] She is currently represented by The Box L.A. in Los Angeles, CA,[3] and has works in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) in New York, the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, the Generali Foundation in Salzburg, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, and the Moderna Museet in Stockholm.[1]

Early life[edit]

Forti was born in Florence, Italy, on March 25, 1935, to Jewish parents Milka Forti (née Greunstein) and Mario Forti.[1] In the winter of 1938, the Forti family, including Forti’s older sister Anna, left Italy to escape anti-Semitic persecution. After leaving Italy, the family first spent 6 months in Switzerland while Milka was ill, then moved to Los Angeles, California, in early 1939, after she recovered. Forti grew up in Los Angeles, attending public schools Gardner Street Elementary School, John Burroughs Middle School, and Fairfax Senior High School.[1] After graduating from Fairfax High School in 1953, Forti attended Reed College in Portland, Oregon from 1953 – 1955.[1]

Working with Anna Halprin[edit]

In 1955, Forti and her partner, artist Robert Morris, decided to leave Reed College and move to San Francisco, California. The couple married in San Francisco that same year and Forti began working under the name Simone Morris.[1]

Soon after moving to the Bay Area, Forti enrolled in classes at the Halprin-Lathrop School, co-founded by dancer/choreographer Anna Halprin. When Halprin founded the San Francisco Dancer’s Workshop (formerly known as the Dancer’s Workshop of Marin)[1] in 1955, Forti followed her to continue studying Halprin’s pioneering work in Dance Improvisation.[4] Forti studied under Halprin from 1955 – 1959, during which time Forti contributed to early works by Halprin and performed these works around San Francisco, along with other members of the Dancer’s Workshop, including A.A. Leath and John Graham. Through the Dancer’s Workshop, Forti also taught children’s and adult’s dance workshops throughout Marin County.[1]

New York and Dance Constructions[edit]

In 1959, Forti moved to New York with Morris. While also working as a nursery school teacher during the day,[1] Forti enrolled in a composition and improvisation class held at the Merce Cunningham Studio, taught by educator/musicologist Robert Ellis Dunn.[4] In these classes, which introduced Forti to the work of John Cage, Forti met and began working with dancers that became influential in the field of Postmodern dance, including Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, and Steve Paxton.[1]

Forti's first development of her Dance Constructions series was publicly presented at New York City's Reuben Gallery in December 1960, in an exhibition Forti shared with Jim Dine and Claes Oldenburg, titled Happenings at the Reuben Gallery.[1] During this exhibition, Robert Morris and Yvonne Rainer performed See Saw, and Forti and Patty Mucha (then Patty Oldenburg, Claes Oldenburg's then-spouse) performed Roller Boxes (then titled Rollers) with the contributions of audience members.[1]

In May 1961, Forti presented a full evening of pieces she called Five Dance Constructions & Some Other Things at Yoko Ono’s studio. Performers that night included Forti, Ruth Allphon, Marni Mahaffay, Robert Morris, Steve Paxton, and Yvonne Rainer.[5]

The original Dance Construction pieces presented at Yoko Ono's studio were Huddle, See Saw, Platforms, Hangers, Slant Board, From Instructions, and Accompaniment for La Monte's 2 sounds and La Monte's 2 sounds, a piece that incorporated the music of La Monte Young. The pieces referred to as "Some Other Things" were Censor, Herding, and Paper Demon.[6] Eventually, the pieces that were identified as the complete series of Forti's Dance Constructions were Huddle, See Saw, Platforms, Hangers, Slant Board, From Instructions, Censor, Roller Boxes, and Accompaniment for La Monte's 2 sounds and La Monte's 2 sounds.[1] These nine pieces proved to be influential in both the fields of dance and visual arts, and have been performed around the world for exhibitions since their development.[3] Dance critic Jennifer Dunning wrote in her Oct. 27, 1991 New York Times review, “Simone Forti presented her first dance program in 1960 and since then has had a steadily increasing influence on post-modernist choreographers interested in exploring ‘natural’, or nonformalist, movement and dance.”[7] Steve Paxton and Yvonne Rainer have cited Forti's 1961 Dance Constructions concert as a pivotal influence on their creative direction which encouraged them to establish the Judson Dance Theater,[1][2] a collective of dancers, composers, and visual artists who performed at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village between 1962 and 1964.[2]

In December 2015, the Museum of Modern Art in New York purchased the Dance Constructions as part of their permanent collection.[5]


In 1962, Forti split with Morris and started living and working with artist Robert Whitman.[1] During their six year marriage from 1962 to 1968, Forti was part of Whitman's performance group and she collaborated with him on many of his Happenings. Some of these performances included American Moon (1960), Hole (1963), Flower (1963), Water (1963), Nighttime Sky (1965), and Prune Flat (1965).[8][9] During this time, Simone wrote and performed under the same Simone Whitman.[1]


After her divorce from Whitman, Forti accompanied her mother and father on a trip to Italy in 1968, deciding to stay and live in Rome.[6] Forti began working with gallerist Fabio Sargentini, whose gallery, L'Attico, was a gathering point for Arte Povera artists at the time.[10]

Forti showed a two-evening retrospective of Dance Constructions at L'Attico in 1968, titled Danze-costruzioni e altri danze pezzi di Simona Forti (Dance Constructions and other Dance Pieces by Simone Forti). In addition to the Dance Constructions, Forti performed two of her other pieces, Bottom and Sleep Walkers (alternatively titled Zoo Mantras ).[1] Sleep Walkers was developed out of Forti's observations of animals at the Rome Zoo,[6] now known as the Bioparco di Roma. Forti specifically refers to developing the movement of swinging her head back and forth from watching polar bears and elephants move at the zoo, writing "Yes, I felt a kinship with those encapsulated beings."[6] In the essay "Animate Matter: Simone Forti in Rome", Julia Bryan-Wilson writes, "In Sleepwalkers [sic], Forti takes cues from animals that develop (and continually replicate) patterns of movement in response to environments of confinement. By segmenting and then repeating small passages of movement, for instance by isolating a few steps out of the flow of the elephant's many other motions, she creates an almost musical sense of pause, interval and tempo."[1]

During her time working with Sargentini in Rome, Forti introduced Sargentini to several Postmodern dancers and artists she had worked with in New York.[10] Sargentini and Forti organized a dance and music festival in 1969, Danza Volo Musica Dinamite (Dance Flight Music Dynamite), in which Forti, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Trisha Brown, David Bradshaw, and Deborah Hay, among others, performed and exhibited.[1]

Forti performed in two more of Sargentini's festivals while going back and forth from Rome to New York, including Festival Music and Dance U.S. (1972), and Musica e danza contemporanea (1974). Other musicians and artists that performed in these festivals included Joan Jonas, Charlemagne Palestine, and La Monte Young.[10]


Forti moved back to New York in August 1969 to attend the Woodstock Music & Art Fair.[6] Forti ended up staying in Woodstock, New York, for a year, living communally and experimenting with LSD and other hallucinogenic drugs, which she wrote about in her 1974 book Handbook in Motion.[6]

Illuminations work with Charlemagne Palestine[edit]

After her year of living in Woodstock, Simone moved back to southern California in 1970, where she started living with a group of artists associated with the California Institute of the Arts. Her housemates at the time were artists Nam June Paik, Alison Knowles, and musician Peter Van Riper, who would eventually become Forti's husband.[1] The first house the artists shared was in the Los Feliz area of Los Angeles, then they moved to Piru, CA.[1]

From 1970 - 1972, Forti occasionally substituted for Allan Kaprow at the California Institute of the Arts, having known Kaprow from working together on Happenings in New York with her then spouse Robert Whitman. Forti initially taught at the Villa Cabrini campus in Burbank, then at CalArts' permanent location in Valencia, CA. Forti led dance and music jams called "Open Gardenia" during these substitute classes. At this time, Forti began collaborating with musician/composer Charlemagne Palestine, who was also working with artists associated with CalArts. Together they developed a performance piece titled Illuminations, which they have performed internationally since 1971 as an ongoing collaborative practice, including a staging at the Louvre in 2014.[1]

Handbook In Motion[edit]

In 1972, the Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design invited Forti to Halifax to write a book, as part of their collection, The Nova Scotia Series - Source Materials of the Contemporary Arts. Other artists who have published books in this series include Steve Reich, Bernhard Leitner, Claes Oldenburg, and Yvonne Rainer.[6] Forti lived in Halifax for two years, from 1972 - 1974, writing and editing her first published book, Handbook in Motion (1974). In Handbook, Forti describes several pivotal moments in her career up to that point, including her experiences at Woodstock, life in Rome, studying with Merce Cunningham, working with Charlemagne Palestine, observing the movement of animals, studying Tai Chi, learning from Pran Nath, and several of her pieces, including Herding, Face Tunes, Cloths, Fallers, and several Dance Construction pieces, among others.[6] The book also contains photographs, poems, and drawings, as well as copied pages from Forti's journals and notebooks.

Big Room with Peter Van Riper[edit]

After finishing Handbook in Motion, Forti returned to New York in the Spring of 1974. There, she began a relationship with artist/musician Peter Van Riper, who had been Forti's housemate while working in the CalArts scene from 1970-1972. Forti and Van Riper were married at the end of 1974, and lived together in SoHo in a Fluxhouse Co-Operative loft, an artist live-work complex organized by architect, urban planner, and founding Fluxus artist, George Maciunas.

Forti and Van Riper began collaborating on a dance and music performance practice, titled Big Room (alternatively titled Home Base) in 1975.[1] Big Room consisted of Van Riper playing music (typically on a saxophone) and Forti simultaneously performing movements based on her observations of animals, similar to her 1968 work, Sleep Walkers (alternatively titled Zoo Mantras).[1]

Forti and Van Riper performed Big Room from 1975 - 1980, in locations including University of California Berkeley Art Museum (Berkeley, 1975), The Western Front (Vancouver, 1975), Lincoln Center (New York, 1976), St. Mark's Church in-the-Bowery (New York, 1976), The Kitchen (New York, 1976), P.S.1 (Long Island City, 1977), the Stedelijk Museum (Amsterdam, 1976), Hallwalls Contemporary Art Center (Buffalo, 1978), Los Angeles Institute of Contemporary Art (LAICA) (Los Angeles, 1978), and the CAPC musée d'art contemporain de Bordeaux (Bordeaux, 1980), among many others.[1]


In 1976, Van Riper introduced Forti to physicist and artist Lloyd Cross,[11] who was developing pioneering work in holography in San Francisco at the time.[12] Together, Forti and Cross made several integral holograms (also called a multiplex hologram), a type of hologram that incorporates cinematography to produce a three-dimensional image that appears to move.[12] The integral holograms Forti and Cross made together used imagery of Forti performing solo, except for Huddle (1977), which shows a small group of people performing a Huddle (one of Forti's Dance Construction pieces).[1] The holograms are exhibited in cylindrical form with a light source coming from underneath.[13]

The integral holograms Forti and Cross made together were first exhibited in 1978 at the Sonnabend Gallery in New York, in an exhibition titled Simone Forti: Movement Holograms.[1] On exhibition at Sonnabend were integral holograms Angel (1977), Striding/Crawling (1977), Figure 8 (1977), Planet in Retrograde (1977), Dancer (1977), Harmonics (1977), and Bug Jump (1977).[3]

These integral holograms continue to be exhibited worldwide.[3] The hologram Striding/Crawling is owned by the Whitney Museum of American Art as part of their permanent collection.[13]

Planet at P.S.1[edit]

Forti's continued interest in animal movements developed into the large group performance Planet, first performed in 1976 at P.S.1, as part of the exhibition, The Institute for Art and Urban Resources presents Group Works by Simone Forti at P.S.1. In Planet, Forti and two dozen of her workshop students performed the movement vocabulary Forti had been developing in her classes, inspired by animal movements Forti observed at the Rome and Central Park Zoos. Performers included David Appel, Sally Banes, Pooh Kaye, and Terrence O'Reilly, among others. Peter Van Riper performed live music.[1]

Dance style and choreography[edit]

Individual style[edit]

Forti’s style of dance comes from an emphasis on the body as a means of self-expression. Her movement explores natural and sometimes day to day or pedestrian movements. Forti presented some of her earliest works in art galleries in New York and at Yoko Ono’s loft where the audience was able to walk around the dancers who were still enough to resemble sculpture. This innovative use of space allowed her work to be viewed as art, not just dance. Many times she would create choreography where the dancer was manipulated from an outside source instead of creating the movement themselves. This "chance choreography" fits a common procedure associated with post modern choreographers like herself. Some of her greatest influences came from observations of children and animals because of her objection to the "isolated, fragmented, and artificial movements"[14] in many formal techniques of the day. Like other post modern choreographers she incorporated the themes of chance procedure, rules/games, improvisation, speaking/singing, and scores.

Choreography specifics[edit]

Forti was interested in "the simple presymbolic games of children, as well as the activities of animals and plants" to "provide her with movement material that when performed on the adult body makes it a 'defamiliarized' object".[15] See-Saw and Rollers are both examples of this. In Rollers the dancers sat in shallow wooden boxes on wheels attached to three cords that were then pulled by spectators.[16] The result of dances like this differed greatly from performance to performance because of the nature of the choreography. Another postmodern characteristic is seen in Huddle because of the improvisation necessary for the piece. In this dance, a group of dancers huddles in closely while one dancer climbs over the group to the other side in no preordained fashion. There is also no order in which the dancers go, therefore, it is based on the feeling of the group as a whole. As the dancer moves out to go, the remaining group must be cognizant and feel the difference then move in to allow the dancer to climb over.[17] Not all of her pieces were focused on dance, in Accompaniment for La Monte’s "2 Sounds", the emphasis is primarily on the music. The only movement comes the winding and unwinding of a dancer standing in a large loop suspended from the ceiling. The “dancing” stops long before the music.

Awards and achievements[edit]

  • 1976 - New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) CAPS Grant[1]
  • 1976 - U.S. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Grant for Choreography[1]
  • 1980 - U.S. National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Choreographer's Fellowship[1]
  • 1985 - Australia Council Theatre Board Award[1]
  • 1988 - New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA) Grant for Choreography[1]
  • 1995 - Dance Theater Workshop’s New York Dance and Performance Award (also know as the "Bessie" Award) for Sustained Achievement[18]
  • 2003 - Lester Horton Lifetime Achievement Award presented by the Dance Resource Center of Los Angeles[19]
  • 2005 - John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship: Creative Arts - Choreography[20]
  • 2008 - Choreographers in Mentorship and Exchange (CHIME) Grant, Los Angeles[1]
  • 2011 - Yoko Ono Lennon Courage Award for the Arts[21]
  • 2015 - Anonymous Was A Woman Award[22]


  • See-Saw
  • Rollers
  • Slant Board
  • Huddle
  • Hangers
  • Platforms
  • Accompaniment for La Monte's "2 Sounds"
  • From Instructions
  • Censor
  • Herding
  • Face Tunes
  • Cloths
  • Elevation Tune No. 2
  • Song
  • Book
  • Bottom
  • Fallers
  • Sleepwalkers
  • Throat Dance
  • The Zero
  • Crawling
  • Big Room
  • Red Green
  • Planet
  • Fan Dance
  • Estuary
  • Home Base
  • Jackdaw Songs
  • Touch
  • Animations
  • Collaboration
  • To Be Continued
  • Still Life[14]

Books and articles[edit]

  • Simone Forti: Thinking with the Body. Hirmer Publishers. 2015. 
  • "Theater and Engineering-An Experiment". Artforum 5. February 1967. 
  • Handbook in Motion. New York: New York University Press. 1974. 
  • "Dancing at the Fence". Avalanche. December 1974. 
  • "Bicycles". Dance Scope. Fall 1978. 


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u v w x y z aa ab ac ad ae af ag ah ai aj Simone Forti: Thinking with the Body (Ed. Sabine Breitwieser for the Museum der Moderne, Salzburg. Pub. 2015 by Hirmer)
  2. ^ a b c The Judson Dance Project 1980-1982. Founding members of the Experimental Modern Dance Group active in New York City’s Judson Church in the 1960s discuss their work. Includes archival footage of performances. Series of 7 videocassettes, VHS (New York, The Kitchen, 1983), v. 5.
  3. ^ a b c d "The BOX Gallery | Simone Forti". Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  4. ^ a b "FACULTY: Moving On Center - School of Participatory Arts and Somatic Research". Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  5. ^ a b "MoMA | MoMA Collects: Simone Forti’s Dance Constructions". Retrieved 2016-01-28. 
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h Forti, Simone (1974). Handbook in Motion. Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design. 
  7. ^ Dunning, Jennifer (October 27, 1991). "Review/Dance; Simone Forti and Peter Van Riper Evoke Nature in the City". New York Times. 
  8. ^ Mann (1998), p. 285.
  9. ^ "Broadway 1602 - Robert Whitman". Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  10. ^ a b c Luca Massimo Barbero and Francesca Pola (2010). Macroroots of the Contemporary: Fabio Sargentini's L'Attico 1966-1978. Rome: Museo D'Arte Contemporanea Roma. ISBN 978-88-370-7957-4. 
  11. ^ Goldstein, Jennie (June 2, 2014). "Movement Research - Critical Correspondence: Simone Forti in Conversation with Jennie Goldstein". Movement Research. Retrieved February 5, 2016. 
  12. ^ a b "HOLOPHILE, INC., The History and Development of Holography, hologram, holograms, holography, holography exhibitions, holographic images, 3-D, 3-dimensional images, Hologram, Holograms, Holography, Holography Exhibitions, Holographic Images, 3-D, 3-Dimensional Images". Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  13. ^ a b "Whitney Museum of American Art: Simone Forti: Striding Crawling". Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  14. ^ a b Mann (1998), p. 283.
  15. ^ Banes, Sally (1987). Terpsichore in Sneakers: Post-Modern Dance. Middletown: Wesleyan University Press. ISBN 0819561606. 
  16. ^ Forti (1974), p. 44.
  17. ^ Forti (1974), p. 59.
  18. ^ "'Bessies' Go to New Artists and Philip Glass". The New York Times. 1995-09-18. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  19. ^ Segal, Lewis (2004-04-19). "Hortons favor modern works". Los Angeles Times. ISSN 0458-3035. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  20. ^ "John Simon Guggenheim Foundation | Simone Forti". Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  21. ^ "Yoko Ono Lennon’s Courage Awards for the Arts 2011: Simone Forti, Jean-Jacques Lebel, Meredith Monk, Yvonne Rainer". IMAGINE PEACE. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 
  22. ^ "Anonymous Was A Woman Award". Supporting Women Artists Over 40. Retrieved 2016-02-05. 


  • Forti, Simone (1974). Handbook in Motion. New York: New York University Press. ISBN 0814725570. 
  • Mann, Lisa Anderson (1998). "Simone Forti". In Benbow-Pfalzgraf, Taryn. International Dictionary of Modern Dance. Detroit: St. James Press. ISBN 978-1558623590. 
  • Breitwieser, Sabine (Ed.) (2015). Simone Forti: Thinking with the Body. Hirmer for Museum der Moderne, Salzburg. ISBN 9783777422787.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]