Skip to content
Arnolfini - est 1961

Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College 1933 – 57

Sat 5 Nov 2005 – Sun 15 Jan 2006

Galleries 2, 3 & 4

Including Anni and Josef Albers, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, R. Buckminster Fuller, Shoji Hamada, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Jacob Lawrence, Bernard Leach, Robert Rauschenberg, Aaron Siskind, Cy Twombly and others.

Black Mountain College was one of the most exciting experiments in the arts, education and community of the 20th century.

Starting at Zero: Black Mountain College 1933-57 is the first UK exhibition on this subject. It traces the emergence and flourishing of avant-garde art in post-war America, when many now well-known artists, composers, dancers and writers gathered at the college.

The exhibition, highlighting the extraordinary coincidences and collaborations of artists, combines works of art by the major figures with rich documentation of the life of the college. It opens with a section devoted to the paintings of Josef Albers and the weavings of Anni Albers. Their insistence on ’starting at zero’ struck a chord not only with the abstract expressionists featured in the exhibition like Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell and Franz Kline, but also with R. Buckminster Fuller’s re-invention of architecture, John Cage’s abandonment of harmony for simple duration and rhythm, and Robert Rauschenberg’s first white paintings.


Founded in North Carolina in 1933 by John Andrew Rice, Black Mountain College attracted a star-studded cast of teachers and students who forged a dramatic shift from a Eurocentric art world to a distinctly American one. Rice invited Josef and Anni Albers to join the faculty after Hitler had closed the Bauhaus; Josef Albers then became the College’s guiding light for its first 15 years. Albers and Rice encouraged education through doing, discovery and invention rather than simply absorbing information. Faculty members were asked to teach out of their own enthusiasm and students were encouraged to build their own syllabuses.