Twice in the last week, I have heard or overheard other men speak of the new show at the Institute for Contemporary Art in Boston called Leap Before You Look:  Black Mountain College, 1933-1957.

I figured something was prodding me, and on Thursday, I went to see for myself. Black Mountain was a college founded in 1933 (and closed in 1957) in the North Carolina Blue Ridge Mountains, near Asheville. It came out of a spirit of change and renewal in higher education in the US. Black Mountain was founded by a few friends, and almost immediately it benefitted from the upheavals in Germany. Major artists were emigrating—escaping the Nazis—and were looking for a place to settle that was safe. Josef Albers and Anni Albers were hired to become members of the faculty.  They ended up staying at Black Mountain for the next fifteen years. The number of major international artists who spent time at Black Mountain, either as students or as members of the faculty, is astonishing, and it is clear that twentieth century art would be poorer without the contribution of this small colony in the mountains of North Carolina. Among the notable artists, dancers, writers, and architects who spent time at Black Mountain are John Cage, Robert Creeley, Merce Cunningham, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Olson, Paul Goodman, and Robert Rauschenberg, among many, many others. Black Mountain was “among the most important artistic and intellectual communities of the twentieth century.”

On my visit on Thursday, I was impressed and bought a catalogue—big, handsomely done, expensive—and went home and read in it. It is 395 pages long, so I am still reading it. On Friday I went back again, after swimming at the Y, and walked through the galleries again (it is a large show) and then bought a copy of Martin Duberman’s book, Black Mountain. Duberman is also the author of Stonewall, about which I have written here before, one of the two major historical works that we have on the Stonewall riots. So, in addition to the catalogue itself, I am also reading Duberman’s history of the college.

This is just an announcement of this show, in case you haven’t heard about it. You can check it out on the ICA website in the link above. I will write more about this when I have gotten through the catalogue and finished Duberman’s history of the college. The show runs until January 24, 2016.

If you’re interested in the architecture and art and education of the twentieth century and of our own, you should see this show.


Martin Duberman, Black Mountain. Chicago: Northwestern University Press, 2009 (originally published by E. P. Dutton, 1972). Available in print edition only.