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International Art
Southern Hospitality

Situated in the heart of Spartanburg’s resurgent city center, the AC Hotel Spartanburg functions as a showcase for modern masterpieces created by renowned artists associated with the avant-garde arts enclave of Black Mountain College. A selection of forty works, carefully curated from the Johnson Collection’s holdings for site-specific presentation, is on permanent view throughout the first floor and mezzanine—the perfect complement to the AC brand's European origins and cosmopolitan character, offered with a decidedly Southern twist.

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MIDCENTURY MODERNISM

Sequestered in North Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains, Black Mountain College was a living laboratory for creative exploration and interdisciplinary collaboration, attracting artists, musicians, dancers, poets, and thinkers from around the world. Operating between the years 1933 and 1957, the school’s roster included luminaries of the burgeoning modern art scene—groundbreaking artists who would play vital roles in shaping twentieth-century aesthetics. Once affiliated with Germany's Bauhaus movement, many of the school’s leaders were intellectual refugees who had fled Nazi oppression.

Josef Albers, Black Mountain College's preeminent director, believed that "art is revelation instead of information, expression instead of description, creation instead of imitation or repetition." The school Albers shaped and led represented a wholly unique and pivotal moment in American art history. Its progressive spirit and international perspective inspired artistic philosophers and practitioners to freely push artistic boundaries. The college’s emphasis on imagination and independence unleashed a tide of innovation that continues to influence contemporary art. That this dynamic experimentation was taking place in the South—and only an hour’s drive from Spartanburg—is indeed a revelation to most audiences.

Resurgent interest in Black Mountain College’s import was underscored by a major exhibition that toured prestigious museums across the United States from 2015–2017. A companion catalogue of the same title, Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College, 19331957, was published by Yale University Press. Both projects includes paintings from the Johnson Collection: Pat Passlof'sYardstick and The Desk by Fannie Hillsmith.

 

The Artist in Everyone

Black Mountain College introduced a bold new paradigm not only to the arts, but to the art of education. From the outset, the school was a liberal arts institution, a place where all other subject matter was considered secondary to the “elementary courses in Music, Dramatic, or the fine arts.” Both established artists and aspiring novices made their way to the utopian arden—some eager to escape New York’s stifling summer heat and others who spent a stretch of years developing artistic identities. Linear progression along an academic path was not integral to BMC’s mission. Rather, as the school’s founder, John Andrew Rice, wrote: “There is no expectation that many students will become artists; in fact the College regards it as a sacred duty to discourage mere talent from thinking itself genius; but there is something of the artist in everyone and the development of this talent, however small, carrying with it a severe discipline of its own, results in the student becoming more sensitive to order in the world and within himself than he can ever be through intellectual effort alone.”

The following Black Mountain College students and faculty members are represented in the Johnson Collection: Anni Albers, Joseph Albers, Leo Amino, Ruth Asawa, Ilya Bolotowsky, Mary Callery, John Cage, John Chamberlain, Elaine De Kooning, Robert De Niro, Sr., Lyonel Feininger, Joseph Fiore, Buckminster Fuller, Balcomb Greene, Peter Grippe, Fannie Hillsmith, Elizabeth Jennerjahn, Pete Jennerjahn, Ray E. Johnson, Gwendolyn Knight, Leo Krikorian, Ingeborg Lauterstein, Robert Motherwell, Kenneth Noland, Pat Passlof, James Prestini, Robert Rauschenberg, Xanti Schawinsky, Oli Sihvonen, Sewell Sillman, Kenneth Snelson, Theodoros Stamos, Jack Tworkov, John Urbain, Jean Varda, Esteban Vicente, Susan Weil, Emerson Woelffer, and Ossip Zadkine.

Photo credit: Masato Nakagawa, Buckminster Fuller's 'Autonomous Dwelling Facility' Dome at Black Mountain College, 1949. Courtesy of Black Mountain College Collection, Western Regional Archives, State Archives of North Carolina.