The Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum fuer Gegenwart – Berlin presents the first comprehensive exhibition in Germany devoted to the legendary Black Mountain College. Founded in 1933 in North Carolina, USA, Black Mountain rapidly rose to fame on account of its progressive teaching methods and the many prominent figures who taught and studied there. Its influence upon the development of the arts in the second half of the 20th century was enormous; the performatisation of the arts, in particular, that emerged as from the 1950s derived vital impetus from the experimental practice at Black Mountain. The founders wanted to establish a democratic, experimental, interdisciplinary educational facility in line with the forward-thinking pedagogical ideas of philosopher John Dewey. The exhibition traces the history of this university experiment in its main outlines. In the first few years of its existence, the college was strongly shaped by German and European émigrés – among them several former Bauhaus members such as Josef and Anni Albers, Alexander “Xanti” Schawinsky and Walter Gropius. After the Second World War, the creative impulses issued increasingly from young American artists and academics, who commuted between rural Black Mountain and the urban centres on the East and West Coast. Right up to its closure in 1957, the college remained imbued with the ideas of European modernism, the philosophy of American pragmatism and teaching methods that aimed to encourage personal initiative as well as the social competence of the individual.
At Black Mountain, the sciences and the arts were taught on an equal footing. The arts were seen as an essential component of a rounded education that would equip students to become responsible members of society. As time went by, however, the artistic disciplines shifted increasingly to the fore and attracted many students to apply for a place at the college. Teachers were free to structure their classes entirely as they wished, and students chose the courses that particularly interested them. Although there was no fixed curriculum, students were encouraged to take courses in a mixture of scientific and artistic subjects. Responsibility for the college was borne jointly by the teaching staff and the students, and everyone was expected to contribute on a voluntary basis to the daily running of the community as well as to evening programs, field work and construction projects. Black Mountain was accessible right from the start to female as well as male students and staff, and contrary to contemporary practices of racial discrimination also accepted a number of Afro-American students.
Within an architectural environment designed by the architects’ collective raumlabor_berlin, the exhibition at the Hamburger Bahnhof is showing works both by teachers at the college, such as Josef and Anni Albers, Richard Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Shoji Hamada, Franz Kline, Xanti Schawinsky and Jack Tworkov, and by a number of Black Mountain students, including Ruth Asawa, Ray Johnson, Ursula Mamlok, Robert Rauschenberg, Dorothea Rockburne and Cy Twombly. In addition to loans from Germany and abroad, individual works from the collections of Erich Marx, Ulla and Heiner Pietzsch, Friedrich Christian Flick and Egidio Marzona are also on display. Like the extensive holdings of the Staatliche Museen zu Berlin and Stiftung Preußischer Kulturbesitz, these collections – today under the aegis of the Nationalgalerie – served as a valuable resource in the creation of the exhibition. A wealth of photographs and documentary film footage, as well as publications produced by the college, offer an insight into the way in which the institute worked and into life on campus. The exhibition also presents books by the academics and writers teaching at Black Mountain, as well as filmed interviews conducted over the past few years with former students.
Performing the Black Mountain Archive: The interdisciplinary and experimental methods and community-based forms of living adopted at Black Mountain had a profound influence upon the artistic and social transformations of the 1960s and are still relevant today. Hence the exhibition aims not only to offer a historical retrospective but also to explore debates on current aspects of the education and training of artists. In order to investigate the contemporary relevance of Black Mountain’s pedagogical approach, students from various colleges are presenting archival materials in the form of readings, concerts and performances within the exhibition itself over the entire duration of the show. Specifically for these performances, artist and composer Arnold Dreyblatt has developed a concept under the title “Performing the Black Mountain Archive”. Within the framework of a score drawn up by Dreyblatt, short performances will take place at various locations within the exhibition every morning between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. and every afternoon between 3 p.m. and 5 p.m.
Black Mountain Research: In collaboration with the Freie Universität Berlin (Institute of Theatre Studies, Prof. Annette Jael Lehmann) and the Dahlem Humanities Center, it has been possible to prepare two public conferences and maintain a blog directly related to the exhibition and the conferences. The first conference was held in May 2014, the second one will take place at the Hamburger Bahnhof, September 25 and 26, 2015. For further information: www.black-mountain-research.com
Black Mountain. An Interdisciplinary Experiment 1933 – 1957
5 June – 27 September 2015
An exhibition by the Nationalgalerie in the Hamburger Bahnhof – Museum fuer Gegenwart – Berlin, Staatliche Museen zu Berlin, in cooperation with the Freie Universität Berlin and the Dahlem Humanities Center
Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation