A survey of the visual achievements of the distinguished avant-garde composer John Cage opened on September 11, in celebration of his seventieth birthday earlier in the month. Cage was already painting and writing poetry when he began to compose music at the age of 18. Since that time, he has explored a variety of ways of linking what we see with what we hear. His range of interests continues to include the visual arts, literature, the natural world (especially mushrooms), and philosophy, as well as music. Among the names to which he makes frequent reference in his work those of Marcel Duchamp, Robert Rauschenberg, and Jasper Johns mingle with Henry David Thoreau, James Joyce, Buckminster Fuller, and Erik Satie. His music and his ideas have in turn exerted a profound influence upon several generations of composers, poets, painters, and sculptors in Europe, the U.S.A., and Japan, and his newest productions rarely fail to provoke controversy despite increasingly sympathetic audiences. As early as the 1930s, Cage began to liberate his musical scoring from conventional systems of notation and employed a variety of odd objects as instruments. His interest in the visual and auditory relationships of music and dance quickened in 1942 when he wrote his first work for choreographer Merce Cunningham, beginning an active collaboration that continues today. In the early 1950s, Cage began working with the I Ching, the ancient Chinese book of changes, drawing chance operations into the composition of his music and, much later, into his graphic art. Among his innovative hand-drawn music scores in the exhibition are selected pages from Atlas Eclipticalis, a major orchestral work composed using astronomical charts. In other works intended primarily for electronic sounds, Cage provides a set of sheets of transparent plastic printed with dots, lines, and symbols, which are to be superimposed upon other drawn elements in order to determine what shall be played and how. Cage's music frequently allows the performer a remarkable freedom of interpretation, and often extends into the realm of theater. Cage's link with the art and thought of Marcel Duchamp makes the Philadelphia Museum of Art, with its great holdings of Duchamp's work, a particularly apt site for this exhibition. One of the earliest scores in the exhibition is Music for Marcel Duchamp of 1947, composed for the sequence devoted to Duchamp in Hans Richter's film, Dreams that Money Can Buy. Over 20 years later, Cage's first venture into printmaking was entitled Not Wanting to say Anything About Marcel, a tribute to his friend and mentor who died in 1968. Cage's graphic works are complex yet elegant, incorporating chance operations in their composition while retaining an unmistakably Cagean appearance. Ever adventurous, he explores a multiplicity of methods, including engraving, lithography, aquatint, drypoint, and several etching techniques. As sounds and silences are accorded equal attention in his music, so do the presence and absence of recurring visual elements prove of equal interest in his print sequences. This exhibition, organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, presents the first comprehensive review of John Cage's scores, print editions, and books, which have added a visual dimension to his international reputation as a composer.
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York
Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, New York
Philadelphia Museum of Art