Bénédicte Pesle, Ambassador of Dance, Has Passed

January 21, 2018

When you know Bénédicte Pesle’s name, it is generally for her outstanding commitment to the work and career of Merce Cunningham since the 60s, or that of Robert Wilson since the 70s. People rarely know that she worked at the bookstore La Hune, in Saint Germain, in the 50s and 60s before running the Iolas Gallery for a long time. There she worked with Max Ernst, René Magritte, Victor Brauner, Roberto Matta, Jean Tinguely, Niki de Saint-Phalle and Martial Raysse, among others.

Having attended the debut of the Merce Cunningham Company in New York in 1953, at the Theater de Lys, Pesle devoted herself to make known, and then promote and circulate the choreographer’s work, first only operating with a close circle of friends and art-loving patrons.

Bénédicte Pesle with Merce Cunningham, Venice, 1972, PC James Klosty

She collaborated with Michel Guy on starting Festival d’automne in Paris—in the first brochure of the festival, her title was “assistant to Michel Guy.” Her action and influence soon reached all of Europe, and beyond.

In addition to Merce Cunningham and Robert Wilson, she made it possible for the European public to discover Richard Foreman, Philip Glass, Trisha Brown, Yvonne Rainer, Meredith Monk, Stuart Sherman, Robert Ashley, Douglas Dunn, Viola Farber and other luminaries of the American avant-garde in theater, music and dance, first while working at Iolas, then from her own office founded in 1972, Artservice International. She described her activity as “artists’ secretarial office,” and she never qualified her work differently, refusing to be considered an agent, an impresario or a producer.

She chose not to be tied to any institution; she always cherished her independence. She liked to convince others and spread her passions while working behind the scenes. Pesle is the missing link in the trajectories of American artists whose careers grew thanks to Europe, as well as the unknown source of certain French cultural policies with her partners in crime Igor Eisner and Philippe Tiry, founder of l’ONDA (decentralized circulation, dance residencies, opening of CNDC in Angers). She has therefore played a considerable role in the development of French dance. In the 80s she also supported French choreographers François Verret, Dominique Bagouet, Régine Chopinot and Philippe Découflé.

Her archive, deposited at IMEC (Institut Mémoire de l’Édition contemporaine) reflects both her activities and the cultural and artistic context of her time. The archive of her work for Merce Cunningham is remarkable in its duration and continuity. A native of Normandy, an impeccable ingenious self-taught professional, a model of humility and authority, a humanist only led by her commitment to the artists she admired and loved, the “lady with the bun” marked her time in a stubbornly discreet and indelible fashion.