Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 is the catalogue accompanying the 2015 exhibition of the same name. Featuring works by more than ninety artists and extensive archival materials, the exhibition was organized by Helen Molesworth with Ruth Erickson and premiered at the Institute of Contemporary Arts, Boston. It then traveled to the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Wexner Center for the Arts in Columbus, Ohio.
A small, experimental liberal arts college founded in 1933, Black Mountain College (BMC) has exerted enormous influence on the postwar cultural life of the United States. Influenced by the utopian ideals of the progressive education movement, it placed the arts at the center of liberal arts education and believed that in doing so it could better educate citizens for participation in a democratic society. It was a dynamic crossroads for refugees from Europe and an emerging generation of American artists. Profoundly interdisciplinary, it offered equal attention to painting, weaving, sculpture, pottery, poetry, music, and dance.
Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933–1957 focuses on how, despite its brief existence, BMC became a seminal meeting place for many of the artists, musicians, poets, and thinkers who would become the principal practitioners in their fields of the postwar period. Figures such as Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Buckminster Fuller, Ruth Asawa, Robert Motherwell, Gwendolyn and Jacob Knight Lawrence, Charles Olson, and Robert Creeley, among many others, taught and studied at BMC. Teaching at the college combined the craft principles of Germany’s revolutionary Bauhaus school with interdisciplinary inquiry, discussion, and experimentation, forming the template for American art schools. While physically rooted in the rural South, BMC formed an unlikely cosmopolitan meeting place for American, European, Asian, and Latin American art, ideas, and individuals. The exhibition argues that BMC was as an important historical precedent for thinking about relationships between art, democracy, and globalism. It examines the college’s critical role in shaping many major concepts, movements, and forms in postwar art and education, including assemblage, modern dance and music, and the American studio craft movement—influence that can still be seen and felt today.
The catalogue’s eclectic typography reflects the radical, utopian, and idiosyncratic pedagogy of Black Mountain College, combining multiple typefaces — many from Jeff Levine — to surprising effect.