Lady Murasaki's Fan Chair, 1993
Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center Collection
Gift of the Artist
This exhibition brings together a selection of works by Black Mountain College (BMC) faculty and students to explore the role and influence of the college on the fields of studio craft and design from the middle of the 20th century through today. Black Mountain College (1933 - 1957) was an experimental liberal arts college located in the rural mountains of North Carolina. The College was not designated as an "art school" as we understand them today, but from the beginning, the centrality of the arts at BMC offered students and faculty an array of opportunities to collaborate and explore various disciplines. This traveling exhibition was originally organized by the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and has been adapted to incorporate works from the NEHMA permanent collection, demonstrating the national influence of the College.
This exhibition is made possible by support from the Windgate Charitable Foundation, the Utah Division of Arts and Museums, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Caine College of the Arts at Utah State University.
This exhibition explores the role of the American West as a site for rebirth and enchantment, specifically through artists and composers who explored the visionary interpretations of the landscape in visual or musical forms inspired by Theosophical ideas.
Curated by a group of international scholars, selected works convey local and regional connections to Theosophically-inspired artists and musicians while also placing them within the international network of enchanted culture that flourished in the early 20th century.
So what is Theosophy? While its roots go back thousands of years, beginning from the 1500s forward, it has generally been associated with the practices of using knowledge and observations of nature and one's self as a way to understand the divinity in nature both physically and metaphysically.
According to founder Helena Blavatsky (1889), "Theosophy, in its abstract meaning, is Divine Wisdom, or the aggregate of the knowledge and wisdom that underlie the Universe." In 1992, leader of the American Section of the Theosophical Society Katherine Tingley stated, "Think of Theosophy not so much as a body of philosophic or other teachings, but as the highest law of conduct, which is the enacted expression of divine love or compassion....Theosophy is the inner life in every religion."
Although many of the individuals included in this exhibition openly discussed their interest and involvement in mystical movements such as Theosophy, this is the first exhibition to specifically explore the pervasive influence of Theosophical ideas on 20th century art and music in the American West.
Artworks included in this exhibition draw largely on the collection of the Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art, supported by key loans from important public and private collections such as the Beatrice Wood Center for the Arts, the Gerald E. Buck Collection, the Raymond Jonson Gallery at the University of Arizona, the San Diego Museum of Art, and the Utah Museum of Fine Arts at the University of Utah. Music and sound also feature prominently in the exhibition. Work from composers Dane Rudhyar and Henry Cowell are played in certain areas of the gallery to connect with the abstract, Theosophical fascination with vibration as a foundational element of both the natural and the human-made world.
The work of Logan, Utah-based contemporary photographer Andrew McAllister, prompts us to think about the legacies of these ideas and about what traces of these enchanted landscapes are apparent now, while the contribution of graphic designer Mike Daines conceptualizes the complex intertextuality of Theosophical influence into a visual map.
This exhibition is made possible with support from the Tanner Charitable Trust and The Leverhulme Trust. To learn more about this project and its worldwide scope, click on the link here: Enchanted Modernities: Theosophy, Modernism and the Arts.
Watercolor #10, 1938
Nora Eccles Harrison Museum of Art
Utah State University
Marie Eccles Caine Foundation Gift
© University of New Mexico Art Museum, Albuquerque
James G. Mansell, University of Nottingham
Christopher M. Scheer, Utah State University
Sarah Victoria Turner, Mellon Center for British Art (London) - Yale University
With Contributions by:
Helena Capkova, Waseda University
Rachel Cowgill, Cardiff University
Anna Gawboy, Ohio State University
Marco Pasi, The University of Amsterdam
Katie Tyreman, The University of York
Gauri Vishwanathan, Columbia University