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10 Reasons To Visit Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957
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10 Reasons To Visit Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933–1957

Picture of Doug Hall
Updated: 12 December 2015
An exhibit four years in the making, which doesn’t begin to describe the range, strength and mission of this exceptional retrospective. Visitors will find a first-hand opportunity to discover ‘where the course of art history changed forever.’ This cutting-edge art institute and communal experiment was Black Mountain College, now offered to viewers in a showcase of over 100 artists, many of which went on to lead movements in their medium in fine art, dance and music. Curated with enormous breadth and detail, this retrospective provides re-affirmation of the lasting impact and seminal influence of faculty, student, artists and the institution of Black Mountain College at Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 1933-1957.
Peter Voulkos, RockingPot, 1956, stoneware with colemanite wash, 13 5⁄8 x 21 x 17 1⁄2 inches.Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of the James Renwick Alliance and various donors and museum purchase © Voulkos Family Trust
Peter Voulkos, RockingPot, 1956, stoneware with colemanite wash, 13 5⁄8 x 21 x 17 1⁄2 inches.Smithsonian American Art Museum. Gift of the James Renwick Alliance and various donors and museum purchase | © Voulkos Family Trust

See a Blockbuster exhibit of artists before they were household names in the modern art world

Works and objects by Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Robert Motherwell, Robert Rausenberg and Cy Twombly that you very likely have never seen before, as these artists’ work provides the audience with a peek backwards to the early experimental pieces. A look at examples, in some cases for the first time, by now-renowned artists, who were just beginning to develop their style and statement at Black Mountain College.

Enjoy an historical happening, as ICA launches the first comprehensive museum exhibition on the subject of Black Mountain College, re-informing its impact

Learn why this groundbreaking art, performance, and educational institution was so important. Find out about the bold questioning techniques that challenged long-held beliefs about American art history. And re-examine the art world through innovative classroom projects as shown on display in the galleries of this interpretive and interactive exhibit. Follow your introspection, and reflect upon this unique art college at the forefront of the ‘learning by doing’ approach which influenced many established art programs across the United States.

Hazel Larsen Archer, Buckminster Fuller inside His Geodesic Dome, 1949, gelatin silver print, 9 ½ x 9 ¼ inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.
Hazel Larsen Archer, Buckminster Fuller inside His Geodesic Dome, 1949, gelatin silver print, 9 ½ x 9 ¼ inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.

Experience the curatorial WOW of an incredibly robust and integrated retrospective

Take-in the full dimension of these innovative pioneers, teachers and students alike, from this incredibly influential institution, spanning all major mediums – with many early experimental works of art and studies by well-known artists on display. Engage with them and become a student with some in-gallery artistic exercises. Or feel the motion of early modern dance, as special live performances in the gallery are scheduled with a backdrop of the original avant-garde choreographed film. And there’s music, with grand piano and a recital program featuring groundbreaking early minimalist, atonal work. See the lessons taught by BMC’s pivotal teachers, and participate in or watch their art put into action.

Satisfy intellectual curiosity – by offerings of meaty examinations of this groundbreaking art college

Through extensive wall texts, audio headsets, and video, this exhibit comes alive, not only by creating a multimedia environment but by forcing you to think about the construct of art. The Black Mountain College mantra was ‘learning by doing.’ This exhibition argues that BMC was ‘an important historical precedent for thinking about relationships between art, democracy, and globalism.’ Come join the discussion with lectures, gallery demonstrations, and lots of other activities to get you engaged with some of the most instrumental and experimental artists of the 20th century.

nstallation view, “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2015) Photo by Liza Voll.
nstallation view, “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston (2015) Photo by Liza Voll.

Get centered with the attention-grabbing introductory timeline panel in the first gallery room

Start your exhibition tour with a smart introductory gallery that helps you organize your exhibit experience with a preview of relationships between teacher, student, artist and artwork. This primer enhances your understanding of critical developmental periods of Black Mountain College and related early contributions by now-highly recognizable modern artists.

Buckminster Fuller’s first experimental scale models and drawings of his famous Geodesic Dome are on display

It was 1948, and a teacher was re-inventing a new structure, trying out construction designs, and failing at first, but – trying again and again. Buckminster Fuller’s geodesic dome followed trial-and-error techniques of design that were at the heart of the school’s mission of hands-on experimentation. See it again for the first time.

Hazel Larsen Archer, Josef Albers, c. 1948, gelatin silver print, 8 ½ x 5 7/8 inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.
Hazel Larsen Archer, Josef Albers, c. 1948, gelatin silver print, 8 ½ x 5 7/8 inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.

Art Education 101: Understand the b and p

The hiring of Joseph Albers, former associate of the Bauhaus, the influential German art school, brought BMC its first fine arts faculty member. His b and p, oil on Masonite painting, currently on exhibit, brought forth the concept of the familiar (such as the alphabet) being manipulated to the point of being un-recognizable, until you looked harder. He lectured, taught, wrote extensive essays and pushed the abstract art conversation forward. Look harder.

Remember communal living? – this was living and breathing at Black Mountain College

A small Woodstock – before the 1960s fame. In a setting of forest and mountains, a communal building for art and living – side by side. Sharing ideas, art, group chores, meals, outings – and one another. Through photomontage and testimonials, re-live a spirited and innovative community experience. The audience is suggested the question: Would you dare do it?

Hazel Larsen Archer, Elizabeth SchmittJennerjahnand Robert Rauschenberg, c. 1952, gelatin silver print, 6 1/4 x 9 ¼ inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.
Hazel Larsen Archer, Elizabeth SchmittJennerjahnand Robert Rauschenberg, c. 1952, gelatin silver print, 6 1/4 x 9 ¼ inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center.

The ICA’s bold modern design and architecture is reason enough for a visit

Besides this fabulous exhibit, come experience the standout modern design in a building not easily ignored. Included in your visit is also a breathtaking waterfront setting. The 65,000 square foot ICA building flexes its muscle over the pier of the surrounding south Boston harbor. If you want a poke in the eye, before your skyline view, from the glass-walled, upper floor galleries, the ICA’s exterior grandiosity has your attention.

Hazel Larsen Archer, Josef Albers, c. 1948, gelatin silver print, 8 ½ x 5 7/8 inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center. Anni Albers and Alexander Reed, Neck Piece, c. 1940/1988, corks, bobby pins, and thread. Collection of Mary Emma Harris, New York. Courtesy the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation.© The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Tim Nighswander/Imaging 4 Art
Hazel Larsen Archer, Josef Albers, c. 1948, gelatin silver print, 8 ½ x 5 7/8 inches. Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center. Anni Albers and Alexander Reed, Neck Piece, c. 1940/1988, corks, bobby pins, and thread. Collection of Mary Emma Harris, New York. Courtesy the Josef and Anni Albers Foundation. | © The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo by Tim Nighswander/Imaging 4 Art

Boston itself beckons

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Boston itself beckons

A most walkable and explorable city. Before or after your ICA visit, see the city of American Revolutionary history at your feet with the Freedom Trail Walk and explore the neighborhoods, from the Italian restaurant-lined North End to the Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market shopping and eatery scene, to the cobblestone circle in the square marking the place of the Boston Massacre under the balcony of the Old Statehouse (built in 1713).

October 10, 2015 – January 24, 2016

The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston, 100 Northern Avenue, Boston, MA, USA +1 617 478 3100



By Doug Hall

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