Arts + Culture

Hammer Museum announces ‘Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957’

The school became a seminal meeting place for artists, musicians, poets and thinkers who became leading practitioners of the postwar period

Black Mountain, Lake Eden
Hammer Museum

Black Mountain, Lake Eden by Joseph Fiore. 1954. Watercolor on paper, 14 x 18 inches. Asheville Art Museum, Black Mountain College Collection.

This February, the Hammer Museum at UCLA presents the West Coast debut of “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957,” the first comprehensive U.S. museum exhibition on Black Mountain College, a small, experimental school in North Carolina which had a profound impact that continues to influence art practice and pedagogy today.

The exhibition, which will run from Feb. 21 through May 15, 2016, chronicles how Black Mountain College became a seminal meeting place and dynamic crossroads for many of the artists, musicians, poets and thinkers who would become leading practitioners of the postwar period. Figures including Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Motherwell, Cy Twombly, Franz Kline, among many others, taught and studied at the college during this period and will be featured in the exhibition.

“Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957” will present a rich mixture of materials in the areas of painting, sculpture, weaving and pottery, including more than 250 objects by nearly 100 artists. True to the interdisciplinary nature of the school, the exhibition features two soundscapes, a grand piano, and a dance floor for live in-gallery performances, in addition to documentary photographs, archival ephemera such as books printed on campus by Black Mountain College poets, and audio recordings of poetry readings.

“We are thrilled to bring ‘Leap Before You Look’ to the West Coast, honoring the values of the renowned experimental Black Mountain College and heralding its role in shaping major concepts, movements, and forms in postwar art and education,” said Ann Philbin, director of the Hammer, which will be the only West Coast host of “Leap Before You Look.”

The exhibition is organized by the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and curated by Helen Molesworth, the institute’s former chief curator and the current chief curator at The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and Ruth Erickson, assistant curator for the Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.

“The exhibition, so thoughtfully presented by Helen Molesworth, underscores Black Mountain College’s interdisciplinary emphasis on inquiry, experimentation, and discussion, and reflects some of our deeply held beliefs in art and its capacity to expand one’s internal horizons and encourage participation in community,” Philbin said.

Founded in 1933 by John Rice, Black Mountain College placed the arts at the center of a liberal arts education and believed that doing so would better educate citizens for participation in a democratic society. BMC was strongly influenced by the utopian ideals of the progressive education movement, particularly the theories of John Dewey. The exhibition is organized into thematic sections, following a loose chronology, allowing each gallery to elucidate various aspects of BMC’s practice, pedagogy, and philosophy.

The Hammer Museum will offer nearly two dozen free public programs to accompany and expand upon the exhibition, including screenings, poetry readings, exhibition walkthroughs, performances, workshops, panels and lectures. 

The Hammer’s presentation is organized by Anne Ellegood, senior curator, with MacKenzie Stevens, curatorial assistant and January Parkos Arnall, curatorial assistant, Public Engagement. Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957 has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, celebrating 50 years of excellence.

Read the full news release.

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