Artists of Black Mountain College: Woven and Intertwined

Hanging sculpture by Ruth Asawa
Sep 01, 2015 - Jan 10, 2016
David and Lillian Lilien Gallery

Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa

Influential even in its own time, Black Mountain (1933-1957) was an experimental college in North Carolina where the study of art was seen as central to a liberal arts education. Even now, decades after its closing, the pioneering impact of Black Mountain’s twenty-five year run is felt in education and the arts. The school anticipated many university system reforms including pass/fail grading, and student involvement in the administrative and decision-making process. Notable alumni include Robert Rauschenberg, Robert De Niro Sr. (father of actor Robert De Niro), artist, and Arthur Penn, director of the movie Bonnie and Clyde.  The school also hosted a venerable roster of instructors, including Willem de Kooning, Merce Cunningham, John Cage, Josef and Anni Albers, as well as Albert Einstein as guest lecturer.

All three artists represented in this gallery, Josef Albers, Anni Albers and Ruth Asawa, are connected through the Black Mountain experiment. Josef and Anni met at the Bauhaus, the influential art school in Germany, and later married, but they immigrated to the United States in 1933 after Nazi pressure closed the school.  Josef is recognized worldwide as an influential color theorist, painter and teacher, and Anni, is considered one of the foremost textile artists of the twentieth century.  After spending her final high school years in a World War II Japanese internment camp in Arkansas, Ruth Asawa attended Black Mountain for three years (1946-49), where she was a student of the Alberses.  

These three artists are also connected through their interests in the cultures of Central and South America, especially Mexico and Peru. Asawa studied Mexican and Spanish art in Mexico City; the Alberses frequently traveled to Mexico, and Anni was influenced by Peruvian textiles.  Although the abstract works on view are made of unrelated materials (metal, textile, paint on hardboard), they share an underlying sense of nature and suggest hot, dry climates such as the one that would foster the desert plant that inspired the Asawa sculpture Untitled (S. 751), on view in this exhibition.  

Each work is part of a larger series by its artist that explored variations of a basic compositional scheme, an approach favored by many artists in the mid-twentieth century. 

Organized by Todd Caissie, Andrew W. Mellon 2015 Summer Intern, and PhD candidate in the Art History Department at Rutgers University

Ruth Asawa (American, 1926-2013)

Untitled (S. 751), 1963

Brass and copper wire

22 1/2 x 22 3/16 x 20 in. (57.2 x 56.4 x 50.8 cm)

Private Collection