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The Davis Museum at Wellesley College presents Prepared Box for John Cage
Ray Johnson, Untitled from Prepared Box for John Cage, 1987, Gift of Carl Solway Gallery, Cincinnati, OH.

WELLESLEY, MASS.- The Davis Museum at Wellesley College presents Prepared Box for John Cage, a tribute to composer, artist and radical experimentalist John Cage. Produced in 1987 on the occasion of his 75th birthday, the box includes submissions by 45 artists reflecting on Cage's enormous influence on visual art, music, poetry, dance, and film. The exhibition displays the portfolio in its entirety, including contributions by Allen Ginsberg, Robert Rauschenberg, Merce Cunningham, Yoko Ono, Joseph Beuys, Laurie Anderson, and Nam June Paik, among others, and will also offer opportunities to see Cage’s scores and listen to performances of his work. On view in the Morelle Lasky Levine ’56 Works on Paper Gallery from February 1 through June 9, the exhibition is free and open to the general public.

Comprising an idiosyncratic portrait of the enigmatic Cage (1912-1992), Prepared Box for John Cage provides a sense of his influence on the creative life of his time. Produced as a deluxe catalogue for an exhibition organized by the Carl Solway Gallery at the 1987 Chicago International Art Exposition, the portfolio honors Cage, one of the most inspiring figures of the 20th Century. Through the contributions of 45 artists, composers, choreographers, curators, and writers, invited by artist Allan Kaprow—with personal anecdotes, images, games, poems, essays, and scores—a multifaceted sketch of Cage emerges.

According to Elaine Mehalakes, Kemper Curator of Academic Programs, “Cage’s musical compositions inspired several of the contributions to Prepared Box for John Cage. Fluxus artists George Brecht and Ay-O referenced Cage’s infamous score, 4’ 33” (1952), in which the performer is silent, not playing anything, and ambient sound—or noise even—is what the audience hears. Pop artist Claes Oldenburg’s sketch for “colossal monument with mushroom and screw” alludes to Cage’s compositions for prepared piano, in which the strings of a grand piano are “prepared” with screws, weather stripping, and other objects, altering the sounds to those of a percussive nature. Oldenburg’s mushroom refers to Cage’s interest in mycology. Jasper Johns’ contribution, a photograph of his 1982 drawing Perilous Night, features the cover sheet for Cage’s score for prepared piano, The Perilous Night (1944), and the two works share an emotional undertone.”

“Many of Cage’s most significant ideas,” continues Mehalakes, “including his thoughts on silence, his interest in indeterminacy and the use of chance operations, are encapsulated in Prepared Box for John Cage. Even the cover of the portfolio is an opportunity for a “Cagean” experience. Related to the score A Dip in the Lake: Ten Quicksteps, Sixty-One Waltzes and Fifty-Six Marches for Chicago and Vicinity (1978), in which participants go to various chance-determined locations to listen to, perform, or record sounds, the portfolio cover, featuring a map of Chicago wrapped in colored rubber bands, suggests movements, both physical and compositional, that the owner can change by removing and replacing the rubber bands. The works and words offered by members of the Fluxus group, proponents of Happenings, performers of sound poetry, and creators of mail art for Prepared Box for John Cage demonstrate the ways in which Cage’s ideas entered into life and were propagated in music, dance, film, poetry, and the visual arts. Cage opened up new avenues of possibility in the creative arts and the contents of this box are reflections of his gifts to the world.”

This exhibition of Prepared Box for John Cage is complemented by a selection of Cage’s scores (Fontana Mix, 1958; Concert for Piano and Orchestra, Solo for Piano, 1957-58; Song Books: Volume 1, solos for Voice 3-58, 1970; and Inderterminacy: Ninety Stories, 1959), and audio recordings (Concert for Piano and Orchestra, 1957-58; Fontana Mix, 1958; Solo for Voice 52 (Aria No. 2) from Song Books, 1970; Indeterminacy, 1959; Music for Marcel Duchamp, 1947; and The Perilous Night, 1944).

The exhibition is one of hundreds of events being held worldwide on the occasion of John Cage’s 100th Birthday Centennial Celebration.

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