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Atlas Hail the New Puritan still
Atlas Hail the New Puritan still

Charles Atlas, collaboration with Michael Clark (choreography)
Hail the New Puritan, 1986, 16mm film transferred to video, sound

LONDON — Dancer, choreographer, ex-heroin addict, prodigal son, perfectionist, art-world darling, club-world star: Michael Clark was for a long time the enfant terrible of British dance. Today he is 58 and the subject of a comprehensive exhibition, “Michael Clark: Cosmic Dancer,” at the Barbican Art Gallery that surveys his career and extensive collaborations.

The visual splendor of the exhibition, which opens Wednesday, vibrantly displays the pop-culture thrills of Mr. Clark’s arrival on the scene in London in the early 1980s. With eye-popping graphics (“Enjoy God’s Disco” reads an early flyer for his company in Coca-Cola red and white), film installations and high-flyer art-world contributions, the exhibition evokes a moment in which dance wove itself into the fabric of a newly charged youth culture.

“The Young British Artist crowd swung into town, and Michael was part of it,” the gallerist Sadie Coles said. “He was in Peter Greenaway’s ‘Prospero’s Books,’ dancing in a warehouse in King’s Cross, at the new St. John’s restaurant, which the art crowd frequented. Everything crossed over.”

The exhibition, said Florence Ostende, the show’s curator, is shaped as “a love letter” from Mr. Clark’s artist friends and collaborators, showing his work through the multiple guises of film, photography, painting, graphic work, costumes and design. “So many exhibitions rely on archival material, and sometimes it can bury the artist,” Ms. Ostende said. “I wanted a very live constellation of voices.” That includes Charles Atlas, Jarvis Cocker, Elizabeth Peyton, Sarah Lucas, Peter Doig and Wolfgang Tillmans, among others.

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Atlas Hail the New Puritan still

Leigh Bowery and Rachel Auburn in Charles Atlas’s film Hail the New Puritan.

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