Back to Black Mountain

The Wexner Center for the Arts is an art learning center located on The Ohio State University’s campus. The Wex, for short, serves to bring culture and programs to the public that highlight exhibitions and mixed media art from around the world. Inside the Wex includes a theater for the performing arts, a theater for video / film productions, public programs including artist visits and school programs, and an art gallery featuring contemporary art exhibits.

This fall, the Wexner Center showcased the revolutionary movement, “Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957” as the exhibition of the autumn season. This exhibit featured the works done at Black Mountain College and how the work performed there became a movement in the contemporary art world. Black Mountain College was an art school in North Carolina in the 1930’s that transformed how art education was taught. Black Mountain College set the tone for art institutions and colleges later created. The school was the beginning of many “first”, such as being the first white only, high level education facility to allow an African American student to enroll during the Jim Crow era. The college also was the first to establish a collaboration style of teaching that encouraged students to connect with their teachers and create art together. All mediums and techniques were welcomed such as performance, installations, jewelry, weaving, metalwork, etc, and were expected to be explored.

The students were taught by an artist who helped encourage the movement into abstract and contemporary genre. To “leap before you look” meant to create experiments with materials before creating an art form on purpose or with intentions, and the end result of the experiment was the final product. Student artist Zola Marcus experimented with brush strokes and geometric lines that ended up creating an abstract painting. During this movement, abstract art was still controversial as real works of art. Abstract art focused on lines rather than creating realistic landscapes and still life works as the previous generation of artist focused on. Black Mountain College created art that was questioned its authenticity and the term of “art”.

Famous artist Robert Rauschenberg was a student and teacher at Black Mountain College. His work paved way to defining the contemporary art as art and not craft or experiments. During his time at the college, he created his “White Paintings” which were series of monochromatic paintings. They appear to be blank, white canvases but actually are positioned to catch shadows and reflections of sunlight. The artwork’s presence in an atmosphere created the real artwork, not necessarily the canvases themselves. This was a huge movement in art as the experience with the art became an asset. Rauschenberg also created series of work that consisted of canvases painted one single color, and other materials such as newspaper or wood attached to the canvas. These complex paintings served to highlight the colors and its aesthetics rather than a painting with an image as a purpose.

The Black Mountain College exhibit coincided with the morals of The Wexner Center, as it brings forth how art transforms and its interaction with its audience. The Wexner creates an atmosphere where its guest can understand the impact of each genre of art.

-Joy Rader

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