MOCA Jacksonville To Present Interactive Exhibition of John Cage & Friends from Black Mountain College

The exhibition is on view at MOCA Jacksonville through May 7, 2023.

By: Jan. 27, 2023
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MOCA Jacksonville To Present Interactive Exhibition of John Cage & Friends from Black Mountain College

MOCA Jacksonville has announced the upcoming exhibition Don't Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage & Friends.

This interactive and multidisciplinary exhibition explores the enduring legacy of John Cage through works by Cage himself, as well as artists that worked with him, and his contemporary relevance through the works by younger artists who in different ways have been inspired by John Cage's unique methodology. The exhibition is on view at MOCA Jacksonville through May 7, 2023.

"Our team at MOCA is excited to welcome the whole community for a first look at this incredible exhibition that is both educational and interactive! Visitors will not only see and experience works by John Cage, one of the most influential, experimental musicians of the 20th century, but also the work of his contemporaries and those he inspired." states Caitlín Doherty, Executive Director of MOCA Jacksonville. "Our Opening Celebration & Preview events are the perfect opportunity to experience the blurring of art, music and performance - fundamental to Cage's practice - together as a community, free and open to all at MOCA!"

Don't Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage & Friends traces the work and legacy of 20th-century composer and artist John Cage and explores his unique approach to art making that continues to live on in the work of artists today.

A rich schedule of programming will accompany this exhibition, beginning with the Opening Celebration & Preview event on October 28.

Curated by Jade Dellinger, Director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW, and organized in collaboration with the Mountain College Museum + Art Center, Asheville, NC, where the exhibition was first presented in September 2021. Curator for MOCA Ylva Rouse.

Support for MOCA Jacksonville is provided by the City of Jacksonville, the Cultural Council of Greater Jacksonville, the Florida Division of Cultural Affairs, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the University of North Florida.

A leading voice of the post-war avant-garde, John Cage (1912-1992) was a composer, philosopher, poet, visual artist, amateur mycologist, and longtime Buddhist practitioner, whose enormous influence throughout the arts cannot be overstated. This interactive and multidisciplinary exhibition explores Cage's work and legacy, featuring works by artists that both knew and worked with him, as well as younger artists who in different ways have followed his footsteps, such as Maria Chavez, Philip Corner, Andrew Deutsch, Ann Hamilton, Christian Marclay, Yoko Ono, Nam June Paik, and Robert Rauschenberg, among many others.

Widely revered as an innovator in the non-standard use and "preparation" of musical instruments, indeterminacy, chance-based, and electroacoustic music, John Cage was perhaps both the most provocative and the most influential American composer of the 20th century. His ideas would spread well beyond the music field however. In John Cage's approach to composition, whether in performance or the visual arts, the role of the artist was not to dictate the outcome of a work, but to give space for the influence of chance.

John Cage encountered Zen Buddhism in the early 1950s, through the works of Aldous Huxley and the lectures and writings of Japanese American Buddhist monk Daisetsu Teitarō Suzuki. He taught at Black Mountain College in the summers of 1948 and 1952 and was in residence there during the summer of 1953. While at BMC, he organized what has been credited as the first-ever "Happening", Theater Piece No. 1 (1952), that put to use many of Cage's ideas of chance and indeterminacy. The interdisciplinary, multi-layered, performance event took place in BCM's communal dining hall with Cage lecturing on music and reading from the ninth-century Chinese Buddhist classic Huang-Po Doctrine of Universal Mind, while now legendary participants, including artists Robert Rauschenberg, composer David Tudor, poets Charles Olson and M.C. Richards, and the choreographer/dancer (and Cage's lifelong partner) Merce Cunningham, performed independently. These "Happenings," that abandoned the traditional concept of stage-audience, and occur without a sense of definite duration, would become commonplace in the development of contemporary art in the following decades.

"John Cage did not meditate in the traditional sense (sitting with legs crossed), but developed a practice of music composition and visual art-making that was in harmony with his daily duties and household chores." says Jade Dellinger, exhibition Curator and Director of the Bob Rauschenberg Gallery at FSW. "He enjoyed cooking, watering the plants and listening to the sounds of city traffic outside his apartment window. The police siren, radio static, and the voice of a violin were equally appreciated and embraced as Cage rejected any hierarchy of sound and explored chance operations to free himself of aesthetic preference or prejudice. This exhibition attempts to examine the artist-composer's decades-long engagement with Eastern philosophy and Buddhist-inspired practice as well as John Cage's profound and enduring influence. We are delighted to have the opportunity to share this project and our enthusiasm for Cage with our friends and community in Jacksonville."

According to Cage, "What I do, I do not wish [to be] blamed on Zen, though without my engagement with Zen I doubt whether I would have done what I have done." As the exhibition title and John Cage's own words make clear, he wished only "to free Zen of any responsibility for [his] actions," yet its profound influence continues to be seen, heard, and experienced through his work and the work of his friends and countless followers.

To experience Don't Blame it on ZEN: The Way of John Cage & Friends, visit MOCA Jacksonville in Downtown Jacksonville before it closes on May 7, 2023. For more information about the exhibition, hours, and admission, visit

John Cage was born in 1952 in Los Angeles, CA. His first experiences with music took place during childhood piano lessons. He first attended Pomona College as a theology major, left school in 1930 and the following year traveled through Europe, where he familiarized himself with the music of Igor Stravinsky, Erik Satie, and Johann Sebastian Bach. During his time in Europe, Cage also explored architecture, painting, poetry, and music. It was during this time that he began composing. Upon his return he received lessons from American composers Adolph Weiss and Henry Cowell, the latter particularly known for his eccentricity, and would study with the great 20th century master, Arthur Schoenberg, at UCLA.

He discovered early on that the music he wanted to make was distinctly different from the music of his time. His first compositions were created using dense mathematical formulas, but displeased with the results, he left the pieces unfinished. It was during his time at UCLA that Cage first started experimenting with unorthodox instruments, such as household items.

In 1951, he began composing aleatoric or change-controlled music, influenced by his studies of Indian philosophy and Zen Buddhism. He would use the ancient Chinese text, the I Ching, that divines answers to questions using chance operations, as his main tool for composing in order to free his work from the inclusion of the composer's will. He described music as "a purposeless play" which is "an affirmation of life - not an attempt to bring order out of chaos nor to suggest improvements in creation, but simply a way of waking up to the very life we're living."

On March 5, 1968 in Toronto, Marcel Duchamp and John Cage, who were friends, played a public game of musical chess. Titled "Reunion," the event drew an audience of hundreds to the Ryerson Theatre, where the two creative giants would activate a unique auditory experience through a specially constructed chess board that triggered different electronic compositions with each individual move. Duchamp, who taught Cage to play chess, won. Duchamp passed away shortly thereafter and the following year, Cage, among other artists, was asked by an art publication to honor Duchamp. In response, Cage created a series of works called "Not Wanting to Say Anything About Marcel", included in the exhibition. Throughout his life, he continued to create paintings, lithographs, engravings, and experiment with unconventional materials in addition to composing and performing. He would also write many books of prose and poetry, as well as self-publishing his scores. Late in his life he produced five operas, all titled Europera. He died in 1992 of a stroke at the age of 79.

The Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center (BMCM+AC) preserves and continues the legacy of educational and artistic innovation of Black Mountain College (BMC). We achieve our mission through collection, conservation, and educational activities including exhibitions, publications, and public programs.

Arts advocate Mary Holden founded BMCM+AC in 1993 to celebrate the history of Black Mountain College as a forerunner in progressive interdisciplinary education and to explore its extraordinary impact on modern and contemporary art, dance, theater, music, and performance. Today, the museum remains committed to educating the public about BMC's history and raising awareness of its extensive legacy. Our goal is to provide a gathering point for people from a variety of backgrounds to interact through art, ideas, and discourse.

Founded in 1924 as the Jacksonville Fine Arts Society, the Museum of Contemporary Art Jacksonville is a private nonprofit visual arts educational institution and a cultural resource of the University of North Florida. One of the Southeast's largest contemporary art institutions, MOCA Jacksonville serves the community and its visitors through innovative exhibitions, notable collections, award-winning educational programs, and compelling publications designed to enhance an understanding and appreciation of modern and contemporary art, with a particular emphasis on works created from 1960 to the present. MOCA Jacksonville originates more than ninety five percent of its exhibitions and accompanying publications. In the past three years, the Museum has produced more than thirty exhibitions. While it attracts visitors from all over the Southeast, MOCA Jacksonville is an important community partner in Northeast Florida. In 2009, MOCA Jacksonville became a cultural resource of the University of North Florida, and thereby enhanced its commitment to providing the highest quality arts educational opportunities, which now include special lectures, college-level art courses, and special faculty and student exhibitions. The Museum is also a cornerstone of Jacksonville's multibillion-dollar downtown revitalization plan with exhibitions and programs that bring new visitors to the civic core during the day, at night, and on weekends. Educational programming includes children's literacy initiatives and family art-making classes as well as regular tours, lectures, films, and publications for children and adults.

For more information including hours of operation, admission prices and upcoming exhibitions and programs, call 904.366.6911 or visit


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