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Robert Wilson
The New York Times described Robert Wilson as “a towering figure in the world of experimental theater and an explorer in the uses of time and space on stage.
The Arts Arena | Margery Arent Safir, Founding Director

Transcending theatrical convention, he draws in other performance and graphic arts, which coalesce into an integrated tapestry of images and sounds.” Susan Sontag has said of Wilson’s work, “it has the signature of a major artistic creation. I can’t think of any body of work as large or as influential.” 

Born in Waco, Texas, Wilson was educated at the University of Texas and Brooklyn’s Pratt Institute, where he took an interest in architecture and design. He studied painting with George McNeil in Paris and later worked with the architect Paolo Solari in Arizona. Moving to New York City in the mid-1960s, Wilson found himself drawn to the work of pioneering choreographers George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, and Martha Graham, among others. By 1968 he had gathered a group of artists known as The Byrd Hoffman School of Byrds, and together they worked and performed in a loft building at 147 Spring Street in lower Manhattan. In 1969 two of Wilson’s major productions appeared in New York City: The King of Spain, at the Anderson Theater, and The Life and Times of Sigmund Freud, which premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.

It was in France, in 1971, that Wilson first received international acclaim, with his silent "opera" Deafman Glance, created in collaboration with Raymond Andrews, a talented deaf-mute boy whom Wilson had adopted. After the Paris premiere, French Surrealist Louis Aragon wrote of Wilson, “he is what we, from whom Surrealism was born, dreamed would come after us and go beyond us.”  Wilson then went on to present numerous acclaimed productions throughout the world, including the seven-day play KA MOUNTain and GUARDenia TerraceThe Life and Times of Joseph Stalin; and A Letter for Queen Victoria. In 1976 Wilson joined with composer Philip Glass in writing the landmark work Einstein on the Beach, which was presented at the Festival d’Avignon and at New York’s Metropolitan Opera House.

After Einstein, Wilson increasingly worked with European theaters and opera houses, particularly in France and Germany. His work has been frequently featured at the Festival d’Automne, and new productions at Paris' Opéra Bastille are heralded with a banner reading "Bob Wilson est de retour." Wilson's long association with noted opera singer Jessye Norman began in Paris in 1982 with Great Day in the Morning, and over the last two decades Wilson has brought his specific sensibility to light, space, and movement to the standard dramatic and operatic repertoire in Paris and elsewhere. He has designed and directed operas at houses such as La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera, and frequently at the Opéra Bastille where his productions include Mozart's The Magic Flute, Puccini's Madame Butterfly, and Debussy’s Pelléas et Mélisande.  Wilson's Les Fables de La Fontaine played at the Comédie Française in 2004, and his 2006 production of Wagner’s Ring, with musical direction by Christopher Eschenbach, were hailed at Paris' Théâtre du Châtelet; in the same year. Lohengrin was produced at the Metropolitan Opera. Among  Wilson's recent works are a staging Bach’s Johannespassion at Le Châtelet and in Germany, of Death Destruction & Detroit and Death Destruction & Detroit II at the Schaubühne. 

He has also presented three groundbreaking musical works at the Thalia, The Black Rider, Alice, Time Rocker, and POEtry, and developed what still stands as his most ambitious project , the multi-national epic the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down. Elsewhere, Wilson restaged Madame Butterfly at the Bolshoi in Moscow; Parsifal at the Los Angeles Opera with Placido Domingo in the title role, and an adaptation of Shakespeare’s The Winter’s Tale with long-time collaborators at the Berliner Ensemble. He has also built on his longstanding love for Indonesia with an entirely new production based on an Indonesian sacred text, I La Galigo.

In September 2009, his direction of the Berliner Ensemble in the Brecht-Weil Opéra de quat'sous opened Paris' Festival d’Automne at the Théâtre de la Ville in the presence of two former French Ministers of Culture and the present Minister, and the present president Frédéric Mitterrand. 

Wilson has collaborated with a number of internationally acclaimed artists, writers, and musicians, including: German playwright Heiner Müller on CIVIL warS, Hamletmachine, and Quartet; singer/song-writer Tom Waits, and writer William S. Burroughs, on the acclaimed The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets; poet Allen Ginsberg on Cosmopolitan Greetings; performance artist Laurie Anderson on Wilson's adaptation of Euripides's Alcestis.  Writer Susan Sontag joined Wilson in creating Alice in Bed, and Lady from the Sea.  Recent works include The Temptation of St. Anthony, with Dr. Bernice Reagon, and Georg Büchner’s Leonce and Lena , with German singer Herbert Grönemeyer

While known for creating highly praised theatrical pieces, Wilson's work is firmly rooted in the fine arts.  Major Wilson exhibitions have appeared at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris; the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston; and the Instituto de Valencia de Arte Moderno.  Wilson has created original installations for various museums, most recently the Guggenheim and at Galeries Lafayette.  His extraordinary tribute to Isamu Noguchi has been shown extensively, as has his installation of the Guggenheim’s Giorgio Armani retrospective. His most recent artistic venture has been the VOOM Portraits, a series of loops in high definition that include Brad Pitt, Gao Xingjian, Winona Ryder, Jeanne Moreau, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Renée Fleming, as well as various animals.

A recipient of two Rockefeller and two Guggenheim fellowships, Wilson has been honored with numerous awards for excellence. In 1986 he was the sole nominee for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the CIVIL warS.  Other honors include the Premio Abbiati from the Italian Music Critics Association, for Hanjo/Hagoromo; two Italian Premio Ubu awards for Alice and Dr. Faustus Lights the Lights; the Golden Lion Award for Sculpture of the Venice Biennale for Memory/Loss; and the German Theater Critics Award for The Black Rider. 

He has been named a Lion of the Performing Arts by the New York Public Library; received an Institute Honor from The American Institute of Architects in New York City; an American Theatre Wing Design Award for Noteworthy Unusual Effects; a Bessie Award; an Obie Award for Direction; a Drama Desk Award for Direction; the Dorothy and Lillian Gish Prize for lifetime achievement; the Premio Europa award from Taormina Arte; the Harvard Excellence in Design Award; the award for best foreign production from the Union of French Theater Critics, for Dream Play.

He was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2000, and a year later, in a White House ceremony, received the Smithsonian Institution's National Design Award. In 2002, the French Republic named him a Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres. He was awarded the Hein-Heckroth-Prize for stage design of the city of Giessen and the Medal for Arts and Sciences of the city of Hamburg in 2009. On May 22, 2010 Robert Wilson will be awarded an honorary doctorate by The American University of Paris.

Since the early 1990s, Wilson has held workshops for students and experienced creative professionals from France and around the world at the International Summer Arts Program at the Watermill Center in eastern Long Island – an interdisciplinary laboratory for the arts and humanities that offers residencies, lectures and performances, and educational programs throughout the year.


Brecht, Stefan. The Theatre of Visions: Robert Wilson. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 1979.

Holmberg, Arthur. The Theatre of Robert Wilson. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Linders, Jan. NAHAUFNAHME Robert Wilson: Lecture. Mit einem Text von Heiner Müller. Alexander Verlag: Berlin, 2007.

Morey, Miguel and Carmen Pardo. Robert Wilson. Barcelona: Ediciones Poligrafa, 2003.

Otto-Bernstein, Katharina. Absolute Wilson. New York: Prestel Publishing, 2006.

Quadri, Franco. Robert Wilson. New York: Rizzoli International Publications, 1998.

Rockwell, John. Robert Wilson, the Theater of Images. New York : Harper and Row, 1984.

Shevtsova, Maria. Robert Wilson. London and New York: Taylor & Francis, Inc., 2007.

Shyer, Laurence. Robert Wilson and His Collaborators. New York: Theatre Communications Group, 1989.

© The Arts Arena 


© Eric Mahoudeau 
Paris Opera of Wilson's production of Die Frau ohne Schatten, 2008 © Eric Mahoudeau 

Robert Wilson Paris Premieres

* indicates World Premiere
Deafman Glance   
Théâtre de la Musique  

Overture (Overture for KA MOUNTAIN AND GUARDenia TERRACE)   
Opéra Comique (Festival d'Automne) and Théâtre des Nations

A Letter for Queen Victoria  
Théâtre des Variétés  

Einstein on the Beach     
Opéra Comique (Festival d'Automne)

Atelier Annick le Moine, Grand Palais  

I was sitting on my patio this guy appeared I thought I was hallucinating    
Théâtre de la Renaissance 

Edison *
Théâtre de Paris, Paris

the CIVIL warS : a tree is best measured when it is down Rotterdam Section    
Théâtre de la Ville (Festival d'Automne)

Théâtre des Champs Elysées (Festival d'Automne)

The Knee Plays (from the CIVIL warS)  
MC 93 Bobigny

MC 93 Bobigny

Great Day in the Morning *
Théâtre de Champs Elysées

Le Martyre de Saint Sébastien *
Palais Garnier

The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets    
Théâtre du Châtelet (Festival d'Automne)

La Nuit d’Avant le Jour *
Opéra Bastille

Einstein on the Beach 
MC 93 Bobigny (Festival d'Automne) 

Odéon Théâtre de l'Europe 

The Magic Flute *
Opéra Bastille

Madame Butterfly *
Opéra Bastille

Snow on the Mesa
Créteil Maison de la Culture  

Hamlet: a monologe
MC 93 Bobigny

The Meek Girl *
MC 93 Bobigny

The Malady of Death 
MC 93 Bobigny (Festival d'Automne) 

Oedipus Rex *
Théâtre du Châtelet

Saints and Singing      
MC 93 Bobigny

Pelléas et Mélisande *
Palais Garnier

Wings on Rock *
Festival St. Denis

Orphée et Euridice *
Théâtre du Châtelet

Dream Play 
Salle Jean Vilar, Théâtre national de Chaillot  

Odéon Théâtre de l'Europe  

Théâtre du Châtelet

Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe

Die Frau ohne Schatten    
Opéra Bastille 

Les Fables     
Comédie Française 

The Temptation of Saint Anthony
Opera Garnier

Der Ring des Nibelungen
Théâtre du Châtelet

Odéon Théâtre de l’Europe

The Passion of Saint John *
Théâtre du Châtelet

L'Opéra de quat'sous (Festival d'Automne)
Théâtre de la Ville

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