Welcome to Rural Avant-Garde: The Mountain Lake Experience. I am curatorial assistant Alexis Meldrum, and this is the Asheville Art Museum’s presentation of the exhibition organized by the Longwood Center for the Arts at Longwood University.
Rural Avant-Garde showcases a selection of collaborative artworks that emerged from nearly four decades of the Mountain Lake Workshop series, a program located in rural southwestern Virginia. The artworks in diverse media created at annual sessions from 1980 through the 2010s embraced collaboration, experimented with new artmaking techniques, and responded to the natural environment of Appalachia.
Local residents and university students worked alongside visiting artists, producing projects that pushed past the traditional boundaries of art. Of the over 15 artists that are featured, many were inspired by conceptual artist and composer John Cage and his embrace of indeterminacy. Cage created the New River Watercolors Series at Mountain Lake, in which the artist used a system of chance to configure his compositions of traced stones gathered in the nearby landscape. Visitors will find a highlight from this series on view, the nearly 30-foot watercolor New River Rocks and Washes from the year 1990, alongside his brush apparatus, watercolor trough, and other tools.
A large-scale brush was also utilized in the creation of John Cage’s STEPS, performed by Merce Cunningham and the Repertory Understudy Dance Group in 2008. The resulting watercolor from the performance is featured in the exhibition, and was made using a set of instructions akin to a musical score, allowing the performance to be reenacted more than once.
The artists Joe Kelley, Ray Kass, Stefan Gibson, and workshop participants also explored chance and the natural environment, like Cage. The 1994 installation Pathways: The Appalachian Trail Frieze, resulted from several photographs and drawings recorded while hiking in Jefferson National Forrest, and arranged using chance in a long frieze that mimics the experience of walking the Trail.
James De La Vega, in 2000, taught participants his various image making techniques for mixed media mural art, employing stencils and tape, resulting in the collaborative and multi-panel Talking Walls.
Photographer Sally Mann, her daughter Jessie Mann, and Liz Ligouri led participants to explore the boundaries of photography and the painterly potential of emulsions in the 2011 Metempsychosis Diptychs.
This Museum is the final venue for this exhibition. Rural Avant-Garde is on view at the Asheville Art Museum through November 1, 2021.
Video by Astrid Cope, fall 2021 communications – multimedia storytelling intern