Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience

January 11 – March 2, 2108

Hazel Larsen Archer
American, 1921-2001
“Merce Cunningham at Black Mountain College,” ca. 1952-53
Gelatin silver print
8-1/2″ x 5-3/4″
Courtesy of the Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

From its inception, Black Mountain College was an incubator for experimentation, placing the importance of an integrated liberal arts education at its center. This innovative school, founded in 1933 in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, valued equally the visual arts and the so-called applied arts, along with poetry, music, and dance. Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience will draw on the combined visual resources of the Vanderbilt University Fine Arts Gallery and Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center. The exhibition will feature a selection of vintage photographs taken at Black Mountain College of John Cage, Merce Cunningham, and R. Buckminster Fuller, all central figures in mid-twentieth-century avant-garde music, dance, and culture, along with works of art by them and others associated with the groundbreaking school, including Josef Albers, Robert Rauschenberg, and Kenneth Snelson. Additionally, one of the few surviving films from the era, a silent movie of the dancer Katherine Litz performing her work Thoughts Out of Season (ca. 1952), will continually be screened in the gallery.

Looking Back (Looking Forward): The Black Mountain Experience is being presented in conjunction with the course The Experimental Arts of Black Mountain, taught by John Warren, Department of Art, and is supported, in part, by the Department of Art. Additional support is provided by the Dr. and Mrs. E. William Ewers Gift for Fine Arts Fund.

Special Program


On Thursday, February 1, at 6 p.m., in Cohen Memorial Hall, room 203, Ruth Erickson, Mannion Family Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and co-curator with Helen Molesworth for the major exhibition Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957, will be the keynote speaker for the symposium, Chance Operations: Experiments in Art and Education at Black Mountain College (1933–1956), to be held January 31–February 2, 2018. The symposium is sponsored by the Department of Art, the Department of Theatre, the Cinema and Media Arts program, The Ingram Commons, and StudioVU: The Department of Art Lecture Series.


At a reception following the talk, Intermission Arts and New Dialect will perform Third Voice, a research lab and performance program incorporating newly composed music, video installation, and dance. The collaboration offers an opportunity for emerging composers and choreographers to connect and develop new works, very much in the spirit of the work done at Black Mountain College. Collaborators include New Dialect choreographers Rebecca Steinberg, James Barrett, Curtis Thomas, Spencer Grady, and David Flores, and Intermission composers George Miller, Christopher Bell, Nathaniel Banks (and Arlie), Spencer Channell, and Matt Kinney and Kay Kennedy. All pieces will be performed for the site-specific event at Cohen that evening.

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