Black Mountain College was an art school located in the south-west of North Carolina, United States and had its doors open between 1933 and 1956; some of the most iconic names on the American art scene at that time attended. Its liberal educational system encompassed different artistic disciplines which were taught based on experimentation. Students were divided into "Junior" who worked in small groups and "Senior", who agreed to a system of individualised tutoring. There were no loans or notes; the only assessment was an exam the student requested when they thought they were ready.
One of the key figures for Black Mountain College was John Andrew Rice, the first rector of the college and responsible for conceptualising the path the school would follow in the future. The poet Robert Creeley maintained intensive contact with the school and was instrumental in the legendary Black Mountain Review publication produced in Mallorca and distributed in the United States. It was at Black Mountain College where the renowned choreographer Merce Cunningham formed the Merce Cunningham Dance Company. Artists, musicians, architects and writers, exchanged ideas and created projects together.
The importance this school came to have was comparable to the German Bauhaus, with whom it shared some similarities, especially with regard to the rejection of the traditional division between Fine and Applied Arts. Not for nothing was Josef Albers one of the first to join the faculty of Black Mountain College with his wife Anni Albers. Its relationship with the Museum of Modern Art in New York and galleries like Art of This Century -directed by Peggy Guggenheim- Charles Egan, Sam Kootz and Betty Parsons meant the fifty students admitted per academic year to Black Mountain College would be guaranteed great visibility.
This exhibition at the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofia reminds us of the significant experience that Black Mountain College gave American culture and in particular for the generation of American abstract expressionists. In this collection the variety in production generated by the synergies between artists is apparent: painting, sculpture, graphic art, ceramics, textile art, jewellery, photography, music and books produced by teachers and students of the school. The exhibition is finished off by sound recordings and videos as well as manuscripts and school documentation.
The tour includes jewels and tapestries created by Anni Albers, an extensive collection of paintings, drawings and graphic arts by her husband, Josef Albers, music scores by composer John Cage; films, photographs and manuscripts from the Dance company Merce Cunningham; serigraphs by architect Buckminster Fuller; photographs taken by Clemens Kalischer; paintings and drawings by Elaine and Willem de Kooning; watercolours and paintings by Robert Motherwell; manuscripts and poems by Charles Olson; oil paintings and photographs by Robert Rauschenberg; Aaron Siskind photographs; paintings and graphic work of Cy Twombly. It is a collection of over three hundred pieces which also include works by the only two Spaniards who attended the American school: the painter Esteban Vicente and sculptor José de Creeft.
This ambitious exhibition and accompanying detailed catalogue give an overview of a school that for twenty years managed to be the hub of artistic activity in the United States.