Degenerate Art Ensemble

March 19 – June 19, 2011

An array of warrior princesses, ninjas waging epic battles, hungry ghosts, birds and beasts—shape shifters all—will greet visitors at the Frye Art Museum in Degenerate Art Ensemble, the first art exhibition showcasing the groundbreaking performance company of the same name.

Degenerate Art Ensemble’s (DAE) dynamic, event-based sensorial extravaganzas will be showcased through music, sculpture, props, costumes, musical instruments, animated films, photo and video documentation, and video projections. Signature DAE fairy tales are featured such as Cuckoo Crow (2006), a Frankenstein-like tale of jealousy, revenge, and transformation set in an imaginary forest, and Sonic Tales (2009), a ghost story involving an eternal battle between humans and spirits waged in the rooms of a haunted house. Artworks and sets created by DAE especially for the exhibition include The Hidden One (2011), a giant, glowing girl-theater deftly combining the characters of Little Red Riding Hood and the Wolf.

DAE’s first art exhibition was conceived and executed in a process of dialogue and close collaboration between Frye Art Museum curator Robin Held, DAE artists, and DAE co-artistic directors Haruko Nishimura and Joshua Kohl. The multifaceted, interdisciplinary project continues the Frye’s commitment to present under-recognized work of significance and to engage diverse audiences through interdisciplinary, boundary-breaking artworks-in-progress.

DAE’s past performances—including 500 concerts and performances in ten countries—have ranged from full theatrical stage productions to intimate concerts. DAE can transform from a dance company to a punk/jazz band to a 45-piece orchestra. At its heart, DAE is in a state of constant examination and reinvention guided by a strong and unified creative vision.

DAE’s roots reach back to 1993, when a group of Seattle-based artists formed the Young Composers Collective, a seventeen-member experimental orchestra including professional musicians and students, visual artists, dancers, and other innovators. Over time the Young Composers Collective began to emphasize more multidisciplinary and theatrical work and during the making of the performance SCREAM! Liondogs (1999), renamed itself Degenerate Art Ensemble in recognition of this evolution. The company’s name refers to one of the twentieth century’s most important and galvanizing art events: the 1937 Degenerate Art exhibition, which presented six hundred fifty works purged from German museums because they did not support the ideals of National Socialism. The group selected this politically charged moniker partly in response to the murder in Olympia of an Asian American youth by neo-Nazi skinheads. For DAE, reviving the term degenerate art also indicated a commitment to internationalism, interdisciplinary practice, intellectual rigor, and open expression that expands political, ideological, intellectual, and artistic boundaries.

DAE has explored sound, dance, stagecraft, film scoring, recording, sculpture and painting in more than 100 original performative works and nine commercial music recordings. DAE was commissioned for new work by On the Boards, Commissioning Music/USA and the Aaron Copland Fund for Music, and was awarded an artist residency at the New Museum, New York City. In March 2011, immediately following the opening of the Frye exhibition, DAE begins an artist residency at Robert Wilson’s Watermill Center, where they will incubate their new performance Degenerate Art Ensemble’s Red Shoes, to premiere at the Frye Art Museum in May. DAE is currently represented by Circuit Network, San Francisco.

Degenerate Art Ensemble’s Red Shoes: Premiere Performance

DAE’s latest site-specific performance, Red Shoes, will premiere this spring at the Frye Art Museum and several other First Hill locations. This extraordinary performance is a reimagining of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale of a girl whose red shoes will not allow her to stop dancing.

The performance is DAE’s interpretation of this beloved fairy tale and horror story – a rich drama of dreams, appetites, discipline, desire, transformation, and reinvention, danced through mountains and forests, across rivers, and through time. Beginning in the Frye galleries, the performance will move to the courtyard of St. James Cathedral, and spill into the surrounding streets. The performance, presented by DAE for limited audiences on three consecutive Thursday evenings, is sold out. Details and questions regarding the performance can be directed to Degenerate Art Ensemble at

Degenerate Art Ensemble is organized by the Frye Art Museum and curated by Robin Held in collaboration with the artists. The exhibition is funded by the Frye Foundation with the generous support of Frye Art Museum members and donors and the Offield Family Foundation. Media sponsor for the exhibition is Seattle Met magazine. Seasonal support is provided by ArtsFund.

The performance Degenerate Art Ensemble’s Red Shoes is supported by the Frye Foundation, 4Culture, 4Culture SITE-SPECIFIC, the City of Seattle Office of Arts & Cultural Affairs, Washington State Arts Commission, with additional support from the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Watermill Center: A Laboratory for Performance.

Degenerate Art Ensemble is supported by

Image Credits:
Steven Miller. Degenerate Art Ensemble: Sonic Tales (detail), 2009. Archival digital print. Art Direction: Steven Miller, Haruko Nishimura, and Mandy Greer.
Degenerate Art Ensemble exhibition installation. Photo: Team Photogenic.
Degenerate Art Ensemble exhibition installation. Photo: Team Photogenic.
Degenerate Art Ensemble exhibition installation. Photo: Team Photogenic.
Bruce Tom. Degenerate Art Ensemble: Red Shoes (performance still), 2011.
Bruce Tom. Degenerate Art Ensemble: Red Shoes (performance still), 2011.

"The quiet museum on First Hill looks poised to make some noise on the global scene."

Michael Upchurch, The Seattle Times

"I have no idea what this is, but it's beautiful."