Rachel Rosenthal (b. 1926) is a key figure in the development of interdisciplinary performance. Her work incorporates dance, vocals, video, visual effects, and other media as a means to address themes related to animal rights, gender, the environment, and humanity’s general place on the planet. Her current dance ensemble, The Rachel Rosenthal Company, is both a traveling performance group and a method of instruction (utilizing her “Doing by Doing” technique) and outreach.
Rosenthal has spent much of her career in Los Angeles, a city that, she felt upon moving there, lacked much of the restrictive—and masculine—intensity that New York projected. In 1956 she founded the Instant Theatre, a decade-long experiment in teaching and innovative, improvisational performance. In the early years of the feminist art movement in L.A., Rosenthal began collaborating with fellow artists such as Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago and helped to found Womanspace Gallery in 1972. Her realization, by way of these collaborations, that her personal experiences—both psychological and physical—held meaning for others has affected her artwork ever since. Rosenthal’s performance Charm (1977), for example, was an interpretation of her childhood experiences with deprivation (illustrated by the intimidating figure of her governess) and excess (symbolized by an abundance of pastries and cakes). In The Death Show (1978), she explored the theme of death and its constant presence. Rachel’s Brain (1987) was a costumed musing on human excess and nature’s regrettable decline into abstraction, related through Rosenthal’s unmistakable stage persona.
In recent years, Rosenthal has moved away from performing herself, concentrating instead upon painting, artists’ books, and artistic direction. Over the years she has received awards from the City of Los Angeles, the College Art Association, the Women’s Caucus, and many other organizations. She has been included in numerous group shows, including Los Angeles 1955-1985 at the Pompidou Center (2006); many of her works, interviews, and reviews are collected in Moira Roth’s monograph Rachel Rosenthal (1997).
Rachel Rosenthal, The Death Show (1978-80). Copyright Rachel Rosenthal. Photo by David Moreno.
Neri, Barbara. "The Animal Question: An Interview with Rachel Rosenthal." P-Form no. 36 (Summer, 1995): 8-12.
Rosenthal, Rachel. Tatti Wattles: A Love Story. Smart Art Press Series; v. 2, no. 20. Santa Monica, CA: Smart Art Press, 1996.
Rosenthal, Rachel and Una Chaudhuri. Rachel's Brain and Other Storms: Rachel Rosenthal: Performance Texts. Critical Performances. London; New York: Continuum, 2001.
Roth, Moira. Rachel Rosenthal. PAJ Books. Art + Performance; 2. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997.