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.

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 artists. 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.


Performing Arts

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.


In 1971 Wilson received international acclaim for Deafman Glance (Le Regard du

Sourd), a silent opera created in collaboration with Raymond Andrews, a talented

deaf-mute boy whom Wilson had adopted. After the Paris premiere of the work,

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 Terrace in Shiraz, Iran

(1972); The Life and Times of Joseph Stalin, a twelve-hour silent opera performed in

New York, Europe, and South America (1973); and A Letter for Queen Victoria in

Europe and New York (1974-1975). 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, and has since

been revived in three world tours in 1984, 1992 and 2012-2015.

After Einstein, Wilson increasingly worked with European theaters and opera

houses. His productions were frequently featured at the Festival d’Automne in Paris,

the Schaubühne Berlin, the Thalia Theater in Hamburg, and the Salzburg Festival,

among many other venues. At the Schaubühne he created Death Destruction &

Detroit (1979) and Death Destruction & Detroit II (1987); and at the Thalia he presented

four groundbreaking musical works, The Black Rider (1991), Alice (1992),

Time Rocker (1996), and POEtry (2000).


In the early 1980’s Wilson developed what still stands as his most ambitious project:

the multinational epic the CIVIL warS: a tree is best measured when it is down.

Created in collaboration with an international group of artists, Wilson planned this

opera as the centerpiece of the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles. Although

the full epic was never seen in its entirety, individual parts have been produced

in the United States, Europe and Japan.


Robert Wilson has designed and directed operas at La Scala in Milan, the Metropolitan

Opera in New York, Opéra Bastille in Paris, the Zürich Opera, the Hamburg

State Opera, the Lyric Opera of Chicago, the Houston Grand Opera and the Moscow

Bolshoi, among others. His productions include Salome (Milan, 1987), Parsifal

(Hamburg, 1991), The Magic Flute (Paris, 1991), Lohengrin (Zürich, 1991),

Madama Butterfly (Paris, 1993), Bluebeard’s Castle and Erwartung (Salzburg,

1995), Four Saints in Three Acts (Houston, 1996), Pelléas et Mélisande (Salzburg,

1997), Orpheus and Eurydice (Paris, 1999), Der Ring des Nibelungen (Zürich, 2000-

2002), Aida (Brussels, 2002), Leos Janacek’s Osud (Prague, 2002), Die Frau ohne

Schatten (Paris, 2003), Gluck’s Alceste (Brussels, 2004), Bach’s Johannes-Passion

(Paris, 2007), Brecht/Weill’s Threepenny Opera (Berlin, 2007), Gounod’s Faust

(Warsaw, 2008), Der Freischütz (Baden-Baden, 2009), Katya Kabanova (Prague,

2010), Norma (Zürich, 2011), Verdi’s Macbeth (Bologna / Sao Paulo, 2013), a Monteverdi

trilogy consisting of L’Orfeo (2009), Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria (2011) and

L’incoronazione di Poppea (2014) in Milan and Paris, La Traviata (Linz, 2015) and

The Troubadour (Parma, 2018).

He has presented innovative adaptations of works by writers such as Virginia

Woolf (Orlando, Berlin, 1989), Henrik Ibsen (When We Dead Awaken, Cambridge

Mass., 1991; Lady from the Sea, Ferrara, 1998; Peer Gynt, Oslo, 2005), Gertrude

Stein (Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights, Berlin, 1992; Saints and Singing, Berlin,

1997), Wole Soyinka (Scourge of Hyacinths, Geneva, 1999), Georg Büchner

(Woyzeck, Copenhagen, 2000), Jean de la Fontaine (Les Fables de la Fontaine, Paris,

2004), Samuel Beckett (Happy Days, Luxembourg, 2008; Krapp’s Last Tape, Spoleto,

2009), Homer (Odyssey, Athens, 2012), Daniil Kharms (The Old Woman, Manchester,

2013), Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (Faust I and II, Berlin, 2015), and

Sophocles (Oedipus, Pompeii, 2018). His longstanding love to Indonesia led Robert

Wilson to direct I La Galigo (Singapore, 2004), a play based on a sacred text from

Southwest Sulawesi. Later on, Wilson directed Rumi: in the blink of the eye, based

on Sufi mystic poetry (Athens, 2007), and 1433—The Grand Voyage, a Ming-

Dynasty parable (Taiwan, 2010).


Wilson has collaborated with a number of internationally acclaimed artists, writers,

and musicians. He worked closely with the late German playwright Heiner

Müller on the Cologne section of the CIVIL warS (1984), Hamletmachine (1986),

and Quartet (1987). With singer/song-writer Tom Waits, Wilson created the highly

successful production The Black Rider: The Casting of the Magic Bullets (Hamburg,

1991), as well as Alice (Hamburg, 1992) and Woyzeck (Copenhagen, 2000). His collaboration

with Lou Reed also resulted in three works for the stage: Time Rocker

(Hamburg, 1996), POEtry (Hamburg, 2000) and Lulu (Berlin, 2011). With David

Byrne, Wilson staged The Knee Plays from the CIVIL warS (1984), and later The

Forest, in honor of the 750th anniversary of the City of Berlin (1988). He worked

with poet Allen Ginsberg on Cosmopolitan Greetings (1988) and with performance

artist Laurie Anderson on Wilson’s adaptation of Euripides’s Alcestis (1986). Writer

Susan Sontag joined Wilson in creating Alice in Bed (1993), and together they

developed a new work, Lady from the Sea (1998), based on Ibsen’s classic and

since revived in many different languages. Wilson’s long association with noted

opera singer Jessye Norman began with Great Day in the Morning (Paris, 1982) and

continued with a stage and video work based on Franz Schubert’s song cycle Winterreise

in 2001. Other important collaborations include The Temptation of St. Anthony

(Duisburg, 2003) and Zinnias (Montclair, 2013) with Dr. Bernice Johnson

Reagon; Büchner’s Leonce and Lena (Berlin, 2003) with Herbert Grönemeyer; The

Life and Death of Marina Abramovic (Manchester, 2011) with Antony; Peter Pan

(Berlin, 2013), Pushkin’s Fairy Tales (Moscow, 2015) and Edda (Oslo, 2017) with

CocoRosie, and The Sandman (Recklinghausen, 2017) with Anna Calvi.


Visual Arts

While known for creating highly acclaimed theatrical pieces, Wilson’s work is firmly

rooted in the fine arts. His drawings, paintings and sculptures have been presented

around the world in hundreds of solo and group showings. Major Wilson

exhibitions have appeared at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1991); the Centre

Georges Pompidou in Paris (1991); the Contemporary Arts Museum in Houston

(1991); and the Instituto de Valencia de Arte Moderno (1992). Wilson has created

original installations for the Museum Boymans-van Beuningen, Rotterdam (1993);

London’s Clink Street Vaults (1995); Museum Villa Stuck, Munich (1997); Guggenheim

Museum (2000); Museum of Art and Design Copenhagen (2000); Passionsfestspiele

Oberammergau and Mass. MOCA (2000-2001); Vitra Design Museum

in Weil, Germany (2001); the Parisian Galeries Lafayette (2002); Barbier-

Mueller Museum for Precolumbian Art in Barcelona (2004); the Pierre Bergé Yves

Saint Laurent Foundation (2004); Aichi World Exhibition Nagoya (2005); Oerol

Festival (2008); Norsk Teknisk Museum Oslo (2011); Norfolk and Norwich Festival (2012);

Kunstfest Weimar (2012); Minneapolis Institute of Art (2018); Max

Ernst Museum Brühl (2018).

His tribute to Isamu Noguchi has been shown at Vitra Museum (2001), the Reina

Sofia Museum in Madrid (2002), the Rotterdam Kunsthal (2003), the Noguchi Garden

Museum in New York (2004), the Seattle Art Museum (2006) and the L.A.-

based Japanese American National Museum (2006). His installation of the Guggenheim’s

Giorgio Armani retrospective (2000) traveled to Bilbao, Berlin, London,

Rome, Tokyo, Shanghai and Milan (from 2000 to 2007). For the Louvre Museum in

Paris, Wilson curated and designed the exhibit “Living Rooms,” featuring around

700 artworks from his Watermill Collection (2013).

In 2004 Robert Wilson started his Video Portraits, a series of HD video works on

subjects that include celebrities such as Lady Gaga, Brad Pitt, Winona Ryder, Alan

Cumming, Jeanne Moreau, Johnny Depp, Mikhail Baryshnikov, Renee Fleming, Sean

Penn and Robert Downey Jr. as well as a variety of animals (the Snowy Owl

“KOOL”, a black panther, a porcupine etc.). These works have been shown in more

than 50 exhibitions worldwide, including at MoMa PS1, Paula Cooper Gallery and

Phillips de Pury & Co. in New York, Ace Gallery Los Angeles, Kunsthalle Hamburg,

ZKM Karlsruhe, Academy of the Arts Berlin, Museum of Modern Art Salzburg,

Times Square New York, Palazzo Madama Torino, the University of Toronto’s Art

Center, and the Louvre Museum in Paris.

His drawings, prints, videos and sculptures are held in private collections and museums

throughout the world, notably The Metropolitan Museum of Art; MoMA; the

Whitney Museum of Contemporary Art; Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris; the Art

Institute of Chicago; Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; Vitra Design Museum; Hamburger

Bahnhof Museum for Contemporary Art, Berlin; Menil Foundation Collection,



Awards and Honors

A recipient of two Rockefeller and two Guggenheim fellowships, Wilson has been

honored with numerous awards for excellence. In 1986 Wilson was the sole nominee

for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama for the CIVIL warS. He received two Hewes Design

Awards for A Letter to Queen Victoria (1975) and the CIVIL warS Act V (1987);

a Bessie Award for The Knee Plays (1987); two Italian Premio Ubu awards for Alice

and Doctor Faustus Lights the Lights (1994 and 1992); the Golden Lion Award for

Sculpture of the Venice Biennale for Memory/Loss (1993); the German Theater

Critics Award for The Black Rider (1990); a Reumert Prize for Woyzeck (2001); the

Smithsonian National Design Award (2001); the French Theater Critics Award for

A Dream Play (2002); an International Design and Communication Award for Mind

Gap (2012); and an Olivier Award for Einstein on the Beach as “Best New Opera

Production” (2013).

Wilson was honored with several lifetime achievement awards, including: Dorothy

and Lillian Gish Prize (1996); Premio Europa for Theater, Taormina (1997); Tadeusz

Kantor Prize, Cracow (1997); Pushkin Prize, Moscow (1999); Rosa d’Oro, Palermo

(2007); Prix Italian and the Fendi Foundation Award (both in 2012); Paez

Medal of Art / Venezuela (2013) and the German Goethe Institute’s Medal for the

Arts (2014). He has been named a “Lion of the Performing Arts” by the New York

Public Library (1989); “Texas Artist of the Year” by the Art League of Houston

(1995); received an Institute Honor from The American Institute of Architects in

New York City (1988); the Harvard Excellence in Design Award (1998); and was

elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters (2000). The President of

France pronounced him Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2003) and

later Officer of the Legion of Honor (2014). The President of Germany awarded

him the Officer’s Cross of the Order of Merit (2014).

Wilson holds Honorary Doctorate degrees from the Pratt Institute (1991), the California

College of Arts and Crafts (1994), the University of Toronto (2005), the University

of Bucharest (2008), the American University of Paris (2010), the City University

of New York (2013), the Sorbonne Nouvelle University (2013) and the University

of Hartford (2016). In 1997, April 18th was declared “Robert Wilson Day”

by the legislature in the State of Texas.


Robert Wilson’s Legacy

Since the early 1990s, Robert Wilson has held workshops for students and experienced

creative professionals from 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. Following a successful capital campaign,

construction of a permanent facility was completed in the summer of 2006, enabling

the Byrd Hoffman Water Mill Foundation to offer residencies, lectures and

performances, and educational programs throughout the year.