Mary Cronson: Manhattan visionary
Mary Cronson celebrates the 30th year of her Works & Process, the Guggenheim Museum’s platform for performing artists.
“Mary Cronson is a legend,” crows her Facebook page, created by her admirers. True, but more than anything, the New York patron, who grew up between the Met and the New York City Ballet, is a visionary. Frail and elegant at 87, this Francophile (who masters the use of the imperfect subjunctive like no one else) embarked on an adventure, convinced she was on her own. In the early 1980s, her dream was to invite playwrights, dancers and composers to a New York museum to talk about their work and show glimpses of their creations. People chuckled to themselves, but she persevered. Then a door opened: the Guggenheim. Then-director Thomas Messer gave her the keys to the theater in the Frank Lloyd Wright building. In May 1984, Philip Glass and conductor Christopher Keene presented Akhnaten there, two months after its world premiere. Cronson then went in search of young talents, seeking to create a buzz about the shows she loved before they were the talk of all New York. The guest list grew—stage and lm directors like Peter Brook, Robert Carsen and Jean-Claude Carrière; musicians like William Christie, Charles Wuorinen, Steve Reich and more recently, Nico Muhly; sometimes scientists and writers, but mostly choreographers—Merce Cunningham of course, Philippe Decouflé, whom she launched overseas, and then Benjamin Millepied. “My friend- ship with Jean-Pierre Bonnefous and Patricia McBride, former principal dancers under George Balanchine, inspired me to make choreography pivotal.”
Today, people recognize Mary Cronson, stopping her in the street to congratulate her. She carries on her work indefatigably, guided by gut instinct and with help from her daughter-in-law Caroline, whom she plans to turn things over to. “We don’t have exactly the same taste, she criticizes me at times, but it’s nice to see what will come after me,” she says with a laugh.