Posts Tagged ‘Ashville’

Culture | From Bauhaus to Black Mountain

Friday, February 19th, 2016

Hazel Larsen Archer, Merce Cunningham dancing,
contact sheet, c1952-53
Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black
Mountain College Museum and Arts Center

Leap Before You Look:
Black Mountain College 1933-1957

The Hammer Museum
Los Angeles | California | USA
21 February > 15 May 2016

Josef Albers, Tenayuca, 1943
Oil on fibreboard
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/
Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York

Adolph Hitler did modernism a great service. Paradoxically, in trying to stamp out the movement’s philosophies, in particular by systematically harassing the Bauhaus, whose staff eventually decided to close the school rather than compromise with the Third Reich, he guaranteed the international dissemination of modernist teaching.

Some of the key Bauhaus figures passed through London, leaving a legacy of teaching ideas that would be a major influence on institutions such as the Royal College of Art in the postwar period. But sooner or later, the majority of them emigrated to the USA.

When former director Ludwig Mies van der Rohe arrived in Chicago in 1938, where he was appointed head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology (later, Illinois Institute of Technology/IIT), László Moholy-Nagy had already established the New Bauhaus there the previous year. Walter Gropius, would become a senior professor at the Harvard Graduate School of Design, while Marcel Breuer taught at Yale. In 1933, the year the Bauhaus had ceased operations, Josef Albers, speaking no English, had also begun teaching at Yale. However, via a recommendation from the Museum of Modern Art, he was soon hired as the first head of Black Mountain College, a new art school in the relative obscurity of Ashville, North Carolina.

Far less well-known internationally than the New Bauhaus – only scant references are made to it via any currently available UK sources – 10 years ago London’s Arnolfini gallery held an exhibition of a limited selection of the school’s works – the Tate website honours it with just 200 words  – by the 1940s, Black Mountain College became the ideal of experimental arts education in America.

Anni Albers and Alexander Reed, Neck Piece, 1940
Aluminium strainer, paper clips, and chain
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/
Artists Rights Society New York.
Photo Tim Nighswander/Imaging 4 Art

Buckminster Fuller, Black Mountain College,
1948/1990, Nancy Newhall

Gelatin silver print
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
©1948, Nancy Newhall, ©2014 The Estate
of Beaumont and Nancy Newhall.
Permission to reproduce courtesy of
Scheinbaum and Russek Ltd, Santa Fe, NM

John Cage, Hazel Larsen Archer
Gelatin silver print
Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black
Mountain College Museum and Arts Center

Conceived by the – by all accounts – brilliant scholar John A Rice, BMC was a completely new type of college based on US philosopher John Dewey’s principles of progressive education. Dewey – reputedly the most significant educational thinker of his era in America – believed that human beings learn through a ‘hands on’ approach and that teachers and students must learn together. Bauhaus students and staff had lived and eaten side by side and embraced a modern lifestyle that included the whole person – body, mind and soul. In the 1919 Bauhaus manifesto Walter Gropius had announced that theatre, lectures, poetry, music, and costume parties, were all part of the programme. The parties promoted contact between the college and the public, an idea that Dewey also endorsed.

Josef Albers, despite his language difficulties, would quickly develop a system that successfully combined both Dewey’s and Bauhaus educational principles, and assemble a board of directors that included Albert Einstein. With great aplomb he put together a formidable and diverse faculty made up of, among others, his talented textile-designer wife Anni Albers, Walter Gropius, Jacob Lawrence, Willem de Kooning, R Buckminster Fuller, Ruth Asawa, and Cy Twombly. Famous alumni would include Robert Rauschenberg, who would describe Albers as having influenced him to do ‘exactly the reverse’ of what he had previously been taught, and John Cage, who staged his first ‘happening’ at the school.

Ruth Asawa, Untitled (S 272), c1955
Copper and iron wire
Private Collection. © Estate of Ruth Asawa.
Photo Laurence Cuneo

Albers left in 1949. As a result of a shift in trends that saw students and faculty drawn towards the cities of San Francisco and New York, in 1953, BMC, having endured 10 years longer than the Bauhaus, closed. A powerhouse, modern educational establishment, the college’s revolutionary and influential methods and ideas would fundamentally change the way in which the visual arts were taught across America, and leave behind a lasting legacy.

Presenting a broad selection of paintings, sculpture, textiles and photography, and including over 250 objects by nearly 100 artists, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957 at The Hammer Museum is the first comprehensive museum exhibition about the school.

All images courtesy The Hammer Museum

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