Robert Wilson was born on October 4th, 1941, in Waco, Texas. He went to the University of Texas to study business in 1959. After three years, he decided that he needed a more creative outlet for his energies. It’s a good thing he changed his mind; Wilson went on to become an acclaimed theatre artist, sculptor, and furniture designer. He has also been a choreographer, a painter, and a sound and lighting designer. The titles don’t stop there; it seems that Wilson can pull off any creative feat tha
t is required of him.
In 1963, Wilson moved to Brooklyn, New York, to study architecture. He graduated from the Pratt Institute in 1965. While there, the kept his artistic mind nimble by attending lectures and studying painting.
From his loft in Soho, Wilson invented an experimental theatre troupe known as the Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds. Wilson named the group after a friend who had helped him get over a speech impediment in his teen years. The Byrd Hoffman group marked the beginning of Wilson’s major theatrical works. In 1969, he produced “The King of Spain” and “The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud”.
In 1983, Wilson began to plan a marathon 12-hour, 6-part performance for the 1984 Summer Olympics. The project was never completed, however. The Olympic Arts Festival was unable to fund the production, and canceled it. The performance, titled “the CIVIL warS: A Tree Is Best Measured When It Is Down”, was chosen for a Pulitzer Prize in drama in 1986. However, even though the jury had selected the work in a unanimous vote, the supervisory council decided not to give out a drama award at all that year.
In theatre as well as in sculpture and furniture design, Wilson is famous for pushing the accepted boundaries. His works are surreal. It’s not unusual for his theatre productions to be acted out on mountain tops or to last for several days. This dream-like quality also extends to his designs. His unique style has been rewarded, though; he won the Golden Lion award at the Venice Biennale in 1993 for one of his sculptures.
Wilson’s sculptural exhibitions continue to push the boundaries of modern art, provoking a response from the audience and challenging viewers to figure out what’s going on. His 16-tableau exhibit titled “Anna Didn’t Come Home That Night” follows the meandering tale of Anna, a dinner guest who vanished after a party in 1917. Wilson’s imaginative use of space and lighting give the entire exhibit an almost nightmarish quality.
Both Wilson’s theatrical productions and his art exhibits feature pieces of furniture that he designed himself. His most famous piece is the perforated steel Hamlet Machine Chair.
Wilson involves himself in every step of the design process for his stage props, from conception to production. He is known to treat the props as if they were works of art, and he is not the only one to take that view; museum curators also consider the props to be artistic sculptures. Though their original function may have been to enhance stage productions, the pieces are often sold for thousands of dollars to modern art collectors.