Local Arts

Asheville gallery celebrates Black Mountain College

“Something Else Entirely: Ray Johnson, Dick Higgins + the making of THE PAPER SNAKE” is on view at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville through Aug 22.
“Something Else Entirely: Ray Johnson, Dick Higgins + the making of THE PAPER SNAKE” is on view at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center in Asheville through Aug 22. Courtesy Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center

Most of us know the Asheville area for its scenery, food scene and fine crafts. But fewer know it as the home of the influential, short-lived Black Mountain College, which helped nurture some of the mid-20th century’s most creative minds.

On your next trip to Asheville, you can learn about the school at the small but mighty Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center.

Now on view is “Something Else Entirely: Ray Johnson, Dick Higgins + the making of THE PAPER SNAKE.” Johnson is considered the inventor of correspondence art, a way of circumventing the often cruel, snotty art world by sharing art through the mail.

Johnson came to BMC at the age of 17 and studied there for three years. Later in New York, after abandoning abstract painting, he started mailing envelopes containing small collages and other items to like-minded artists, who added to or embellished them before sending them along to others. This informal network was eventually dubbed the New York Correspondence School.

In 1965, Dick Higgins’ Something Else Press published “The Paper Snake,” a gorgeously messy selection of writing, art and other things Johnson sent Higgins over a five-year period.

This show includes the manuscript, galleys, camera-ready art, a rare edition of “The Paper Snake,” and never-before-exhibited collages, plus ads, contracts, notes and other materials. Work is displayed on walls and in cases, but there is also a lot of material in drawers, heightening the intimacy.

Like Ray Johnson, “The Paper Snake” defies labeling. A helpful, free gallery guide enumerates the many things it is not—a children’s book, manifesto, narrative and so on. You don’t know if you’re looking at something intentionally absurd or simply hard to interpret.

It’s not all a big joke, though. On a list titled “These are a few of my favorite things,” No. 10 is “To be sad, because I once was a child.”

Visit the gallery

Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, Asheville; blackmountaincollege.org; 828-350-8484; through Aug 22.

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