Volume 12: Expanding the Canon
Although small by design, Black Mountain College was boundless in many ways, and has long had an astonishing hold on the public mind. During its 23-year run as a liberal arts college with summer arts institutes, its activities regularly found their way into the media from Asheville to New York City. When it closed in 1957, many people assumed it had “failed” even though it had thrived for over twenty years with no external board of trustees, no endowment, no fundraising office, and low faculty salaries with few benefits. Indeed, after a lull in the 1960s when the booming higher education sector overshadowed it, the college began to be recognized once again as a uniquely generative community of scholars and practicing artists.
As Black Mountain College’s former faculty and students from both the regular academic year and the summer arts institutes rose to greater prominence, the college gained increasing notoriety as the place that shaped the now-famous generation of the avant-garde. References to the college began to appear everywhere from museums to biographies, exhibits to performances, academic journals to poetry collections. This in turn produced a spate of articles including many in this journal that focused on the intriguing lives and works of well-known artists and writers in performance, craft, poetry, music, and visual arts.
Concurrent with these narratives, though masked behind the widespread attention to the arts, the college was shaped by a host of lesser-known characters and activities that prove equally fascinating.
As a liberal arts school, its curriculum encompassed a wide range of fields of study beyond the arts for which it has become best known. For example, scientists and mathematicians of international renown found their way to Black Mountain alongside their contemporaries in modern artistic movements.
As a haven for immigrants and refugees, the movement and migration of its students and faculty members connected it not only with the German Bauhaus and major cultural centers such as New York City and San Francisco, but also with Latin America, Russia, and more. Still today, the college and the people who were associated with it provide lasting inspiration for contemporary artists and writers both in the region and around the globe.
The story of Black Mountain College, therefore, is expansive and ever-expanding. This volume focuses not on a singular individual, discipline, or movement, but on those little-known areas of study and recent discoveries that expand our understanding of Black Mountain College in unexpected ways.
A mysterious Soviet faculty member, a poet’s little-known stint in Guatemala, the important role of the original students from Rollins College in shaping the new college, the originality and prolific output of the college’s print shop, and a range of contemporary creative responses to the BMC legacy—all these and more expansions of the normal Black Mountain College canon will be found in this issue.
We hope you will take great pleasure in some new discoveries. And perhaps they will inspire you to do your own exploring of some hidden or ignored facet of this endlessly fascinating place. Happy reading.
–Thomas E. Frank + Carissa Pfeiffer, Co-Editors ([email protected])
Cover Image: Quỳnh Lâm, “History of Color,” 2019. Site-specific installation at Vincom Contemporary Center, Hanoi. Curated by Mizuki Endo. Cropped and filtered for text clarity.
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