PARTICIPANTS IN HUMAN endeavours frequently like to work together or in small communities. By being in close contact they can inspire and encourage each other; criticise each other’s work; influence each other; provide mutual assistance both theoretical and practical; and so on. Working communally is often favoured by groups of artists. Such was the case at Black Mountain College (‘BMC’) in North Carolina. The establishment was founded by John Andrew Rice, Theodore Dreier, Frederick Georgia, and Ralph Lounsbury in 1933 as a private liberal arts college. These people had been dismissed as faculty members from Rollins College (in Florida) after an incident that threatened their academic freedom. BMC thrived until it was closed in 1957.
In the year that BMC was opened, the Nazis in Germany closed down a ground-breaking art and design establishment in Dessau – the Bauhaus. Many faculty members fled from Germany to the USA, and some of them, notably Josef Albers (1888-1976) and his wife Anni (1899-1994), joined BMC. Josef headed up BMC’s art programme and Anni taught weaving and design. The college was unusual in many ways and differed from other liberal arts colleges in the States.
BMC favoured an inter-disciplinary approach to teaching. It attracted artists and other cultural figures, who were at the forefront of the avante-garde in the USA. These people included Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley, Willem & Elaine De Kooning, to name but a few. It would not be an exaggeration to say that the remotely located BMC was one of the most important powerhouses for the development of modern art in 20th century USA.
Until the 15th of April 2023, there are two exhibitions being held at the David Zwirner Gallery in London’s Grafton Street (in Mayfair). One of them is dedicated to a series of paintings by Josef Albers. The other, and more interesting show is a collection of artworks created by several artists, who attended BMC either as students or members of the faculty. The works in this exhibition include a few works by Anni and Josef Albers, as well as by other artists, including the De Koonings, Buckminster Fuller, Sue Fuller, Leo Amino, Ray Johnson, and Ruth Asawa. It is a small but excellent show, and well worth a visit. Until today, when I visited David Zwirner, I must admit that I had never heard of BMC, which was founded at the same time as the Germans were closing down the Bauhaus, which had already become one of the most influential pioneers of innovative design during the 20th century.