In honor of the centenary of John Cage’s birth, The Pomona College Museum of Art presents the traveling exhibition John Cage: Zen Ox-Herding Pictures from September 4 to December 16, 2012. The exhibition brings together fifty-five rarely seen watercolors created by Cage in 1988 at the Mountain Lake Workshop in Blacksburg, Virginia, revealing the powerful influence of Zen in his life and work. Cage (American, 1912-1992) was a renowned composer, philosopher, writer, and visual artist whose interest in East Asian and Indian philosophy led him to abandon intention, memory, and personal taste to focus instead on process and chance in music, performance, and visual art.
Born in Los Angeles, John Cage attended Pomona College from 1928 to 1930, dropping out after persuading his parents that a trip to Europe would be more beneficial to a future writer then college studies. The centenary of Cage’s birth will be marked at Pomona College by the exhibition, and a variety of programs and musical performances. Programs and events will be announced in August.
In 1931, Cage returned to the U.S., eventually turning to music and art. Cage studied with Richard Buhlig, Henry Cowell, Adolph Weiss, and Arnold Schoenberg. In 1952, at Black Mountain College, he presented a theatrical event considered by many to have been the first Happening. 4’33”, written by Cage and performed by David Tudor sitting without playing in front of a piano for four minutes and thirty-three seconds, is one of the most famous and important pieces in twentieth-century avant-garde music and art. Cage’s legacy extends far beyond music and art. He radically changed how we view the act of performance by investigating the ways music composed through chance procedures could become something beautiful. Beginning in the 1960s, he shifted his focus to literature, publishing his first book, Silence, in 1961, and in the late 60s, began experiments with chance in drawings, prints, and paintings.
On view at Pomona College are a series of exquisite small paintings dating from 1988. Ray Kass, the founder and director of the Mountain Lake Workshop, invited Cage there to paint, and they began a series of collaborative experiments with watercolor pigments. As Cage experimented with watercolor for the first time, he used paper towels as test sheets to acquaint himself with the new medium. Kass viewed these beautiful studies as more than just test sheets and encouraged Cage to make an artwork with them. Cage then invited Kass to make a piece with them. Twenty years later, Kass, along with Dr. Stephen Addiss, returned to Kass’s collection of Cage’s archived paper towel paintings, selecting works that reflect the Zen narrative of Ox-Herding pictures, an illustrated parable for the path to and beyond enlightenment that Cage often referred to in his writings. Accompanying each of the images is a poetic fragment from Cage’s writings, selected by Addiss to further connect the images with the ancient Zen parable.
John Cage: Zen Ox-Herding Pictures was organized by the University of Richmond Museums, and curated by Addiss, Tucker-Boatwright Professor in the Humanities-Art and Professor of Art History, University of Richmond, and Kass, Professor of Art, Emeritus, Virginia Tech. The exhibition was made possible in part with the generous support of the University of Richmond’s Cultural Affairs Committee. A catalogue published by George Braziller, Inc. Publishers, New York, in association with the University of Richmond Museums, is available through Amazon.com.