October 25, 2015 - Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston - Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957
October 25, 2015

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957

Installation view, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 19331957, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 2015. Photo: Liza Voll Photography.

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957
October 10, 2015–January 24, 2016

The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
100 Northern Ave
Boston, MA 02210
United States

T +1 617 478 3100

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The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (ICA) presents 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 whose influence on art practice and pedagogy still has profound impact today.

Leap Before You Look focuses on how, despite its brief existence, the college became a seminal meeting place for many of the artists, musicians, poets, and thinkers who would become the principal practitioners in their fields of the postwar period. Figures such as Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Ruth Asawa, Robert Motherwell, Gwendolyn and Jacob Knight Lawrence, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley, among many others, taught and studied at Black Mountain College.

Teaching at the college combined the rigorous technical exercises of Germany’s revolutionary Bauhaus school with interdisciplinary inquiry, discussion, and experimentation. While physically rooted in the rural South, Black Mountain was an unlikely cosmopolitan meeting place for American, European, Asian, and Latin American art, ideas, and individuals. The exhibition argues that Black Mountain College was as an important historical precedent for thinking about relationships between art, democracy, and globalism. It examines the college’s critical role in shaping many major concepts, movements, and forms in postwar art and education, including assemblage, modern dance and music, and the American studio craft movement—an influence that can still be seen and felt today.

Leap Before You Look features almost 200 individual works by more than 90 artists, student work, archival materials, poetry recordings, and a musical soundscape. True to the interdisciplinary nature of Black Mountain College, the exhibition includes a dance floor and piano to accommodate weekly in-gallery performances of seminal works by Merce Cunningham, Katherine Litz, and John Cage. The ICA has also invited Boston-based artists Jonathan Calm, Danielle Legros Georges, Damon Krukowski, Timothy McCormack, and Kelly Nipper to reimagine Cage’s Theater Piece No. 1 by proposing a series of actions that will take place during the run of the exhibition. For a schedule of upcoming exhibition programs, visit icaboston.org/bmc.

The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated, 400-page catalogue published by the ICA in association with Yale University Press. The catalogue includes an essay by Helen Molesworth focusing on the interrelated themes of art pedagogy, progressive education, democracy, and cosmopolitanism. Contributions from more than 20 scholars—including Harry Cooper, Eva Diaz, Steve Evans, Jennifer Gross, Jonathan Hiam, Katherine Markoski, Nancy Perloff, Jeffrey Saletnik, Alice Sebrell, Jenni Sorkin, and Gloria Sutton—address a variety of topics, from the history of weaving and ceramics to modernist music and American poetry. 

Leap Before You Look is organized by Helen Molesworth, the ICA’s former Barbara Lee Chief Curator, with ICA Assistant Curator Ruth Erickson. Following its Boston debut, the exhibition travels to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (February 21–May 15, 2016) and the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio (September 17, 2016–January 1, 2017). 

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.

Major support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation.



Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston
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