Past Exhibitions

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957

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“Few legends loom quite as large as that of Black Mountain College.”—New York Times

This fall, step into an immersive, sweeping exploration of one of America’s most important artistic legacies. Featuring 200 works by 90 artists, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 sheds light on an experimental school in North Carolina that has had an extraordinary impact on contemporary art. Its influence is still profoundly felt today—and perhaps nowhere more pervasively than at the Wex, where this acclaimed exhibition makes its only stop in the Midwest.

Leap Before You Look chronicles how, over a relatively brief period of time, this rural college became a crucial incubator and gathering place for future giants of the midcentury avant-garde. The exhibition features formative work by such teachers and students as visual artists Anni and Josef Albers, Ruth Asawa, Willem and Elaine de Kooning, Ray Johnson, Jacob and Gwendolyn Knight Lawrence, Robert Rauschenberg, and Cy Twombly; architect Buckminster Fuller; and poets Robert Creeley and Charles Olson. While the traditional arts of sculpture and painting are amply represented, they’re given equal billing with weaving, metalwork, jewelry design, and furniture produced at the school. Along with extensive archival photographs and recordings, the exhibition is brought to life by in-gallery performances of work created and inspired by choreographer Merce Cunningham and composer John Cage.

A radical, idealistic initiative, Black Mountain College broke new ground in arts education—encouraging teachers and students to collaborate, to improvise as well as rehearse, and to create beyond category. As a place that encouraged artists to push traditional disciplines as far as they might go, Black Mountain stands as the model for today’s contemporary arts institutions. Indeed, the Wex—itself multidisciplinary, experimental, and risk-taking—shares more than just DNA with Black Mountain. Three artists in the show (Cage, Cunningham, and Rauschenberg) have been honored with the prestigious Wexner Prize, and many others have been the focus of Wex programs over the years.

Remarkably, Leap Before You Look is the first comprehensive US exhibition to chart Black Mountain’s seismic impact on art pedagogy and practice. Its restless, joyous spirit lives on at the Wex. Come see what happens when art, music, and dance collide in an acclaimed laboratory for contemporary art.

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 is organized by The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston and curated by Helen Molesworth, chief curator, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, with Ruth Erickson, associate curator, The Institute of Contemporary Art/Boston.

This exhibition has been made possible in part by a major grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence. Major support is provided by The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation and the Henry Luce Foundation.

Additional support is generously provided by Chuck and Kate Brizius, Robert and Jane Burke, Katie and Paul Buttenwieser, the Robert E. Davoli and Eileen L. McDonagh Charitable Foundation, Bridgitt and Bruce Evans, James and Audrey Foster, Erica Gervais and Ted Pappendick, Vivien and Alan Hassenfeld and the Hassenfeld Family Foundation, Curtis R. Kemeny, Kathleen McDonough and Edward Berman, Ellen Poss, David and Leslie Puth, Cynthia and John Reed, and Charles and Francene Rodgers.

Presenting sponsor for Leap Before You Look at the Wexner Center is the Cardinal Health Foundation.

Major support is provided by Megan and Mark Kvamme and Nancy Kramer and Christopher Celeste.

Additional support is provided by Paige and Mike Crane, the Merce Cunningham Trust, Katie and Brett Kaufman, Ben Maiden and Karen Bell in loving memory of Jan Maiden, Portfolio Creative, Arlene and Michael Weiss, and anonymous donors.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily represent those of the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Merce Cunningham in costume dancing with legs crossed and arms extended behind him

Merce CunninghamChangeling, 1957. Image courtesy of the New York Public Library for the Performing Arts, Dororthy and Lewis B. Cullman Center, and the Merce Cunningham Trust. Photo: Richard Rutledge.

Large loom, a Ruth Asawa wire sculpture, and piano in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center. Photo: Stephen Takacs.

Silas Reiner dancing in a red costume for a crowd in the Wexner Center galleries

Silas Reiner performing Merce Cunningham’s Changeling at the opening for Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center. Photo: Katie Spengler

installation view of several works in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center. Photo: Stephen Takacs.

installation view of several works in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center. Photo: Stephen Takacs.

archival photo of two women walking in a rural landscape

Students with barn and grain silo in the background, n.d. Photo: Josef Breitenbach. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Asheville, NC

archival photo of students working underneath a geodesic dome

Students working on molds for dome, summer 1949. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Asheville, NC

Buckminster Fuller popping out of the top of a geodesic dome

Hazel Larsen Archer, Buckminster Fuller inside His Geodesic Dome, 1949
Gelatin silver print, 9 1/2 x 9 1/4 in.
Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center

various leaves collaged on a yellow background

Josef Albers 
Leaf Study IX, c. 1940
Leaves on paper, 28 x 24 3/4 in.
© 2016 The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation / Artists Rights Society, New York
Photo by Tim Nighswander/Imaging 4 Art

Robert Rauschenberg collage of images and paint on canvas

Robert Rauschenberg
Small Rebus, 1956
The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, The Panza Collection.
© 2016 Robert Rauschenberg Foundation.

archival photo of josef albers teaching a class of students

Josef Albers drawing a lily for his class, April 1942. Photo by Tom Leonard. Courtesy Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina, Asheville, NC

Robert Rauschenberg dancing shirtless in a field with another figure who is cropped out of the frame

Hazel Larsen Archer, Elizabeth Schmitt Jennerjahn and Robert Rauschenberg, c. 1952
Gelatin silver print, 6 1/4 x 9 1/4 in.
Estate of Hazel Larsen Archer and Black Mountain College Museum and Arts Center

installation view of several works in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center. Photo: Stephen Takacs.

two patrons looking at a large woven tapestry in the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center. Photo: Stephen Takacs.

installation view of a large timeline across an entire wall of the Wexner Center galleries

Installation view of Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 at the Wexner Center.

LEAP BEFORE YOU LOOK MADE POSSIBLE BY

National Endowment for the Humanities: Celebrating 50 Years of Excellence

 

PRESENTING SPONSOR FOR LEAP BEFORE YOU LOOK AT THE WEX

Cardinal Health Foundation

 

MAJOR SUPPORT

Megan and Mark Kvamme

Nancy Kramer and Christopher Celeste

 

ADDITIONAL SUPPORT

Paige and Mike Crane

Merce Cunningham Trust

Katie and Brett Kaufman

Ben Maiden and Karen Bell in loving memory of Jan Maiden

Portfolio Creative

Arlene and Michael Weiss

Anonymous donors

 

MEDIA SPONSOR 

WCBE 90.5 FM

 

SUPPORT FOR FREE AND LOW-COST PROGRAMS

Huntington Bank

Cardinal Health Foundation

 

GENERAL OPERATING SUPPORT FOR THE WEXNER CENTER

Greater Columbus Arts Council

Ohio Arts Council

The Columbus Foundation

Nationwide Foundation

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Past Exhibitions

Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957