"This is not Black Mountain College" by Richard Canard (Carbondale, Illinois, USA)

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Mail-art by IUOMA member Richard Canard (Carbondale, Illinois, USA)


May 28, 2014 - Prolific correspondent Richard Canard consistently sends me tremendous mail-art. This readymade (slightly altered) is my favorite to date, and the reason for this requires some explanation for those who are not longtime network veterans.

First, Richard Canard is extremely humble. He will not tell you (but I certainly will) that he was a member of Ray Johnson’s original New York Correspondance School. Most Ray Johnson fans who have delved into the matter know RayJo attended Black Mountain College in North Carolina, USA. This brochure Richard seems to have found in Kentucky is, of course, a wry reference to BMC and a commentary on ever-changing cultural contexts.

Black Mountain College (1933-57) had an astounding impact on global culture. Although it closed many years ago, the spirit continues today. Mail-art can be considered one of its many legacies. Ray Johnson studied at BMC from 1945-48. It was there that he made friends and contacts including John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg who were of such importance in his life, work and to the mail-art network:


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John Cage staged early, intermedia events at BMC that would blossom into “Happenings” and performance art elsewhere, ultimately contributing to Fluxus. Concrete and visual poetry from Brazil and Europe were introduced in the United States through Black Mountain College (and other locations as well), helping to establish the international visual poetry network that has been connected to mail-art for decades. In the years following Ray Johnson’s graduation and under the leadership of Charles Olson with Robert Creeley editing the Black Mountain Review, the college became the center of a literary movement associated with the Beat Generation.

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Volumes have been written about BMC with endless speculation about how and why a cultural revolution in the West began in rural North Carolina USA rather than, say, New York or the great cultural centers of Europe. Richard Canard, ever ironic and perceptive, raises all these issues with this ingenious mailing. He creates nostalgia while at the same time reminding us to question myth-making.

Deepest thanks, as ever, to Richard Canard!

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Comment by David Stafford on May 30, 2014 at 3:57pm

You're not ranting. You're instructing which, for me, is a good thing. Keep at it...

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 30, 2014 at 2:43am

Richard Canard did this to me. The least mention of BMC & I go into rants worse than Olson's. Creeley was one of my profs at SUNY, so I witnessed the of wake of BMC firsthand. Never a stranger crew I have I ever seen.

I like the Joe Dunn poem as well. Joe Dunn was an SF poet who hung around w/Spicer & did all the printing for the White Rabbit Press. Spicer tried to get a job at BMC but supposedly Olson would not hire him due to homophobia, which is remarkable when you consider Olson's enduring relationships w/openly gay men like Allen Ginsberg, Robert Duncan & John Wieners.

Well, I can rationalize the rant w/the notion that the tribe occasionally needs a refresher on it's roots. But I'll leave BMC well enough alone now, thank Litter Richard for the memories & thank the brave commentators for slogging through the cosmic debris.

Comment by David Stafford on May 29, 2014 at 7:09pm

DVS, you know your BMC history...I've forgotten almost everything except Albers' squares and Olson's inscrutability (to me anyway). Don't know much about Spicer but I love at least one of his poems..."Five Words for Joe Dunn on his 22nd Birthday"

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 29, 2014 at 4:59pm

Always appreciated, David. The Duberman book might indeed still be the most comprehensive. Few in print blame Olson for the closure. If he had been a "real" president he would have had to impose budgets, curricula - all the things that would have killed the freedom that made BMC a hotbed of creativity.

Other places tried to re-create BMC after the fact like Rutgers (Alan Kaprow) & SUNY (State University of New York) that did its best to hire every former BMC faculty & student available. Olson taught at SUNY briefly and, as legend has it, in the middle of a semester simply got in his car & drove away never to return. (His wife Betty, a former BMC student, died in a car crash on an icy Western NY highway; he was never the same & died (with the 60s) in 1970 unable to finish the spoken word album the Beatles had contracted w/him to make on Apple Records. Things didn't turn out so well for them either.

Jack Spicer tried to recreate BMC with White Rabbit University that held classes in North Beach bars. RayJo had his Buddha University.

But, yes, a one shot deal leaving people trying to figure out what "it" was, "it" was something, definitely something but no one can say for sure to this day what "it" was other than "it" was something. One Olson's most devoted followers was absolutely convinced Olson was an extra-terrestrial.

Comment by David Stafford on May 29, 2014 at 4:17pm

Thanks, DVS. I remember reading Martin Duberman's history of BMC years ago...One of those flowers that bloomed briefly in the desert....

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 29, 2014 at 3:04am

David "The Brand" Stafford nails it again, says in a sentence what I can't manage to spit out in six obscure paragraphs. In short, yeah, if you know the BMC thing, this is really funny.

Comment by David Stafford on May 29, 2014 at 1:23am

Richard's art is a sharp stick in the eye of evolution...cultural evolution that is. This is Premium Grade Devo: From Albers to ATVs. 

Comment by De Villo Sloan on May 28, 2014 at 10:30pm

Great observation, Rebecca.

The link I included in the blog provides a more comprehensive view than my sketchy overview. There were, in a sense, two Black Mountains, or the Albers & Olson eras were distinct. I gather from the 1970s interview John Held, Jr. did with Ray Johnson that Johnson favored the Albers era; that's when he was a student. RayJo spoke of the "Beat influence" of Olson & Creeley - not negatively, but he made a distinction. (Rauschenberg, BTW, was a student when Olson served as rector - the equivalent of president.)

Our mutual friend Tom Clark's Olson biography has some great chapters on the Olson era at BMC. Olson presided over the closing of the college - standard Olson - he had his own agenda & attracted all the players who would emerge a decade later in the counter-culture: Ginsberg, Kerouac, John Wieners & the SF Renaissance folks like Duncan & Spicer - all present if not physically then in spirit (& all very male-biased' let's be real). Edmund Wilson visited the place in the 1950s & described it something like: "A small group of juvenile delinquents on crutches dressed like a motorcycle gang."

BMC always struggled financially & academically.

After presiding on over the BMC closure, Olson would emerge a few years later in Timothy Leary's psychedelic drug experiments at Harvard.

BMC folks dispersed across the face of the earth.

Comment by Rebecca Guyver on May 28, 2014 at 7:57pm

Great blog DVS! As always laughing, Richard Canard! When I think of BMC I think of Albers and Hans Hoffman (too)!



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