Exhibition on view August 20 through November 1, 2021
Asheville, N.C.—Contemporary art, interdisciplinary research communities, and the inspiration of Appalachia converge in Rural Avant-Garde: The Mountain Lake Experience. This exhibition showcases a selection of collaborative creative works that emerged from nearly four decades of the Mountain Lake Workshop series, a program sited in rural southwestern Virginia. The exhibition will be on view in the Museum’s Appleby Foundation Exhibition Hall from August 20 through November 1, 2021.
Founded by artist and scholar Ray Kass in 1980 and co-organized with influential art critics Dr. Donald B. Kuspit and Dr. Howard Risatti, as well as the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (VMFA), the workshops integrated the arts and sciences in a dynamic experimental creative process that pushed past the traditional boundaries of art, dance, and performance. Community-centered from its inception, the Mountain Lake Workshop demonstrated the relevance of the arts across disciplines, as well as social and participatory learning.
The workshop’s annual convening in rural southwest Virginia underscored the wealth of creative value found in traditionally underserved rural locales, and supported Kuspit’s call for contemporary art’s decentralization from urban centers. This exhibition offers a focused look at this period of art production that investigated new conceptual limits, born of the environment, just a few hundred miles north of Asheville, NC. Works range from large-scale watercolors and photographic installation to relics of performances and other experimentations in artmaking.
Residents of Mountain Lake, VA engaged in animated discussions of contemporary art theory with Donald Kuspit, Clement Greenberg, and Howard Rissatti. They worked side-by-side with leading contemporary artists such as John Cage, Cy Twombly, Howard Finster, and Sally Mann in the creation of experimental works of art. This exhibition is comprised of such works, several of which, including large-scale installations, remain in the collections of the VMFA, the Taubman Museum of Art, the Mountain Lake Workshop Archival Collection, and the Longwood Center for the Arts (LCVA) at Longwood University.
“This exhibition highlights another intriguing narrative in the important and powerful history of modernism unique to the region of southern Appalachia—akin to the innovations of Black Mountain College here in Western North Carolina,” says Alexis Meldrum, curatorial assistant at the Asheville Art Museum. “The artists operating during the sessions of the Mountain Lake Workshop conducted boundary-pushing explorations in art, equally informed by collaborative dialogues as by the rural respite in which they found themselves. It’s quite exciting to present this wide range of conceptual artwork to our visitors, including several visually impactful large-scale installations that have not often been exhibited.”
Highlights include composer and conceptual artist John Cage’s New River Rocks and Washes (1990). A significant late-career work by Cage, this rarely exhibited watercolor extends nearly 30 feet in length, produced using methods of chance to trace stones gathered from the workshop’s natural surroundings.
Rural Avant-Garde: The Mountain Lake Experience features Mountain Lake Workshop artists Stephen Addiss (born New York, NY 1935); Steve Bickley (born Lebanon, VA 1953); John Cage (Los Angeles, CA 1912–1992 New York, NY); Merce Cunningham (Centralia, WA 1919–2009 New York, NY); James De La Vega (born East Harlem, NY 1968); Howard Finster (Valley Head, AL 1918–2001 Rome, GA); Joe Kelley; Jiro Okura (1943–2014); Liz Liguori (born circa 1979); Sally Mann (born Lexington, VA 1951); Mary C. Richards (Weiser, Idaho 1916–1999 Kimberton, PA); Cy Twombly (Lexington VA, 1928–2011 Rome, Italy); and founder Ray Kass (born Rockville Centre, NY 1944) himself, whose individual workshops have provided an interface between the concepts and specific creative activities of many of the various workshops.
The exhibition and accompanying catalogue (published by Longwood University in association with the University of Virginia Press) provide an important record of Mountain Lake Workshop within the context of contemporary creative practice.
This exhibition was organized by the Longwood Center for the Visual Arts at Longwood University. Generous funding was provided in part by the National Endowment for the Arts. Learn more at ashevilleart.org.