Richard Foreman

After having studied literature and theater, Richard Foreman spent the second-half of the sixties associating with the explosive underground New York art scene. His direct relationship with Jonas Mekas, who introduced him to the films of Ron Rice, Jack Smith, and Ken Jacobs, along with the emerging Minimal Music scene and the dancer Trisha Brown, all opened up new horizons for him. In 1968, he founded his own theatrical company, Ontological-Hysterical Theater, for which he directed numerous productions and which later became a foundation. In Foreman’s own words: “[My theater had] to be [similar to] clinical documents. I wanted [it] to be simple and as rigorous as what in those days was Minimalist art … I thought of myself as making Minimalist art like the music of La Monte Young, or the paintings of Frank Stella.” It was precisely according to these influences that he structured an investigation that has as its presupposition the basic notion of a performance that is always shown and recognizable as such, in which the bodies of the actors are physically present and even create real tableaux vivants of great impact. From the way in which they express themselves, through references to their physicality, the concept of an “ontological-hysterical” theater is born. Between 1979 and 1985 a part of the theater company established itself in Paris, thanks to the assistance of the French government, thus giving the European audience the chance to discover his creations.
In a career spanning over thirty years, Foreman has directed and staged his own works as well as important opera productions and classical and contemporary theatrical texts. His work has also won numerous awards. The highly original style of his theater is characterized by a play of complex tensions and references between vocal-acting investigations and the meaning of the visual components of his performances. Constructed in such a way as to be distant from the identifying dynamics of the public, his creations, like his actors, function as theatrical machines, following a logic outside and beyond traditional dramaturgy and narration.
In transferring and re-creating his theatrical production through film and video, he produces works that are simultaneously more intimate and abstract with respect to his staged works. By using deconstructive and analytical modalities that solicit the forms of theatrical illusion, such works become rigorously controlled compositions that analyze the structures and contacts between image and language. Formally Minimalist, Foreman’s videos are in reality particularly rich and complex in their layers of meanings and in their textual components. [F.B.]

List of Works

Out of the Body Travel, 1976
video, black and white, sound, 42 min.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
This audiovisual work, characterized by the photos of Babette Mangoste, is constructed on the juxtaposition of suggestions provided by the director’s voice—Foreman—and the scene elaborations created by the actors (students of the American Dance Festival). The mingling of language and images, together with male and female presences, creates evocative results accompanied by an underlying erotic tension.

City Archives, 1978
video, color, sound, 28 min. 16 sec.
Purchased with the contribution of the Compagnia di San Paolo
Invited by the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis to create this video, in City Archives Foreman offers a labyrinthine collage of stories and images. The work centers on the viewing perspective of an outsider, a stranger presented as “the Other” who observes a city and its human artifacts.
Foreman stages and deconstructs the forms of organizing, cataloguing, and archiving through which information and knowledge is arranged and structured.

Artworks