Motley Crew: Reissued Book Explores the Black Mountain College’s Eclectic Ideology and Global Links

Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment, 1933–1957 originally accompanied a 2015 exhibition by the same name at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof.

Black Mountain Interdisciplinary Experiment book
Courtesy Spector Books

“Black Mountain College was a paradoxical place,” write curators Eugen Blume and Gabriele Knapstein in Black Mountain: An Interdisciplinary Experiment, 1933–1957. The catalog, which originally accompanied a 2015 exhibition by the same name at Berlin’s Hamburger Bahnhof, underscored the ideological eclecticism and transnational links that have come to define the now-legendary artistic incubator. The book, which will be reissued in April (Spector Books, $50) after being out of print for years, recounts how the school developed organically in western North Carolina’s pastoral Blue Ridge Mountains, hosting European Jewish refugees and Bauhaus expats, among others. Perhaps most famously, it lured Josef Albers, whose salary negotiations with cofounder Theodore Dreier—one of many correspondences collected in the book—crystallize the school’s ad hoc manner of working. This approach extended to charging students and staff with quotidian tasks (cleaning, maintenance, and farming were par for the course) and lay at the heart of its non-prescriptive style, a pedagogical heir to the shuttered Bauhaus’s work-study model. Embracing complexity and contradiction allowed for Black Mountain’s laudable defiance of Jim Crow segregation and trademark combination of American progressivism and European Modernism. The exhibition and catalog are “intended to offer an animated glimpse of living and learning at the college,” Blume and Knapstein write, but with its compilation of hundreds of photos, essays, transcripts, drawings, news clippings, and other archival ephemera, the publication is more of a sustained gaze.

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