Black Mountain College

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American art educational establishment at Black Mountain, North Carolina, founded by a group of progressive academics in 1933 and closed after long-standing financial problems in 1957. It was run by the teaching staff, with no outside control, and was kept deliberately small (with an average of about 50 students a year) to reduce administration; a variety of arts were taught and interaction between them was encouraged. Mary Emma Harris describes the college as ‘a unique combination of liberal arts school, summer camp, farm school, pioneer village, refugee centre and religious retreat’ and writes that it was ‘a catalyst for the emergence of the American avant-garde after the Second World War’ (catalogue of the exhibition ‘American Art in the 20th Century’, RA, London, 1993). In the visual arts, the teacher most associated with Black Mountain College was Josef Albers, who arrived there with his wife Anni (who taught weaving) soon after it opened and stayed until 1949. Other illustrious figures who taught at Black Mountain include Robert Motherwell and the composer John Cage (1912–92), whose ideas on chance and indeterminacy in the arts were widely influential. In 1952 Cage organized there a partly programmed performance (involving paintings and readings) that was later designated the first happening. Famous former students of the college include John Chamberlain, Kenneth Noland, and Robert Rauschenberg.

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