Don’t Blame it on ZEN:

The Way of John Cage & Friends

Curated by Jade Dellinger, Director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center
September 3, 2021 – January 8, 2022

Don’t Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage & Friends is presented in conjunction with the Faith in Arts Institute, co-hosted by BMCM+AC and UNC Asheville (October 13 – 16, 2021), and the ReVIEWING Black Mountain College conference (November 12 – 14, 2021) with a thematic focus on the lasting legacy of John Cage featuring keynote speaker Laura Kuhn, Director of the John Cage Trust. The public reception, held November 12 as part of the opening of ReVIEWING 12, will feature the world premiere of a new composition by John Luther Adams, Waves and Particles, performed by the JACK Quartet.

Widely revered as an innovator in the non-standard use and “preparation” of musical instruments, indeterminacy, chance-based and electroacoustic music, John Cage (1912-1992) was perhaps both the most provocative and the most influential American composer of the 20th century. Best known for his foundational composition “4’33”, a work from 1952 that instructed the performer not to play their instrument during three timed movements over four minutes and thirty-three seconds, Cage asserted the rather radical claim that any collection of sounds may constitute music and that there is no such thing as silence. 

Cage taught at Black Mountain College in the summers of 1948 and 1952 and was in residence during the summer of 1953. While at BMC, Cage lectured on the Huang-Po Doctrine of Universal Mind and organized what has been credited as the first-ever “Happening.” Later titled Theater Piece No. 1, the fairly spontaneous work was an interdisciplinary, multi-layered, performance event that took place in Black Mountain’s communal dining hall with now-legendary participants including artist Robert Rauschenberg, composer David Tudor, poets Charles Olson and M.C. Richards, and the choreographer/dancer (and Cage’s lifelong partner) Merce Cunningham.

This performance event changed the landscape of contemporary art across the globe and laid the groundwork for future generations of composers and interdisciplinary artists. As the exhibition title and John Cage’s own words make clear, Cage wished only “to free Zen of any responsibility for [his] actions,” yet his profound influence continues to be seen, heard, and experienced through his work and the work of friends and countless followers. Don’t Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage and Friends presents works by Cage and his contemporaries including Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, David Byrne, Robert Rauschenberg, and M.C. Richards as well as those deeply influenced by his work and teachings such as composer Matana Roberts, artist and performer Aki Onda, interdisciplinary artist Andrew Deutsch, and abstract turntablist Maria Chavez.

Featured Artists Include: John Cage, Laurie Anderson, Glenn Branca, David Byrne, Maria Chavez, Philip Corner, Andrew Deutsch, Peter Greenaway, Ann Hamilton, Lejaren Hiller, James Klosty, Alison Knowles, Shigeko Kubota, Christian Marclay, Charlotte Moorman, Olivier Mosset, Dave Muller, Michael Oldenberg, Aki Onda, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, Ben Patterson, Robert Rauschenberg, M.C. Richards, Matana Roberts, The Art Guys, Stephen Vitiello, ​and Lawrence Voytek.

Header: John Cage, HAIKU, 1952. Printed by Carroll Williams, Black Mountain College Music Press. Edition of 300. Drawing Matter Collection.

Gallery: John Cage foraging for mushrooms. William Gedney Photographs and Papers, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.; Robert Rauschenberg, Postcard Self-Portrait, Black Mountain (I), (1952 – Printed c.1980). Gelatin silver print. 5-1/2 x 3-1/4 inches. Private Collection, Fort Myers, FL.; John Cage, Fire 6, 1985. Burned and branded paper. The Johnson Collection.; Matana Roberts, who dat, 2018. Mixed Media. 12h x 6w in. Courtesy of Fridman Gallery.;