John Cage

Year of birth, place
1912, Los Angeles, United States
Year of death, place
1992, New York, United States
Role at the ZKM
in the collection

John Cage was born in Los Angeles in 1912. In 1930, after travelling for several months in Europe, he embarked on a year's study of music in the USA under Richard Buhling, Adolf Weiss and Henry Cowell. In 1934-36 he studied under Amold Schönberg. In 1945 he enrolled at Columbia University, New York, in study Philosophy and Classical Indian Music, simultaneously studying Zen Buddhism with Daisetz Taitaro Suzuki. Cage taught extensively throughout his career and had a profound influence on several generations of artists. In 1941 he taught Experimental Music at the Chicago School of Art; in 1948 he taught at Black Mountain College; and from 1956 to 1960 he taught at the New School of Social Research, New York. In the academic year 1988-89 he gave the Charles Eliot Norton Poetry Lectures at Harvard University. Cage received numerous prizes and awards for his work, among these an Honorary Doctorate at the Californian Institute of Arts (1986) and the Kyoto Prize awarded by the city of Kyoto (1989). John Cage died in New York in 1992. 

Cage is among the most important creative figures of the twentieth century. As a musician, composer, teacher, artist and as a friend of Marcel Duchamp, Merce Cunningham, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik and others, he had a significant impact on the evolution of art forms that straddled the conventionally perceived boundaries of music, dance, the visual arts and theatre, and that disproved the supposed distinction between 'high' and 'low' art. Alongside Duchamp, Cage was one of the first artists to combine various media in his work, and to produce what could truly be called multimedia art. Of crucial importance in Cage's work are compositional procedures based on allowing chance to determine the choices made and aleatory methods of composing. He was first alerted to this notion through discovering the highly complex counting processes informing the Chinese oracle book, the »I Ching«. This showed Cage that it was possible to work in a 'non-intentional' manner; that is to say, to keep personal elements out of the work and, at the same time, to offer performers a greater degree of freedom in their interpretations. In his musical compositions, Cage used silence and emptiness, non-tones and noises occurring by chance in both the immediate and the more distant environment together with instrumentally generated sounds. In Cage's work, we find a union of the unregulated, playful and anarchic elements of Dada and of fluxus (Cage had a great influence on the origin and evolution of this last) with the meditative, indifferent and disciplined character of Zen Buddhism and the wisdom of Oriental philosophy.

Cage made his first experiments in painting in the 1920s. Thereafter, for several decades, the scores and musical notation he produced were themselves effectively 'drawings' - instructions concerning musical processes expressed in visual form. Cage's engagement with the visual arts occurred, however, predominantly during the last fifteen years of his life. Starting in 1978, he produced series of prints (mostly in small editions), from 1983 drawings, and from 1987 watercolours. In 1983 he embarked on a series of drawings that he was to continue until his death: they were devoted to the Japanese Zen garden (»ryoan-ji«). They consist of a network of overlapping circles made by drawing around pebbles with pencils varying in thickness and hardness. The number and arrangement of the stones on the rough drawing paper (which has a
rectangular shape) and the choice of pencil type are decided after consulting the »I Ching«. For the last drawings that Cage produced before his death, the »Edible Drawings« of 1989-91, Cage used paper made by hand from plants, algae, ginger roots and other such materials.

Solo Exhibitions (selection)
1958 Stable Gallery, New York
1977 The Museum of Modern Art, New York
1978Museum Folkwang, Essen, Städtisches Museum Abteiberg, Mönchengladbach, Kunstverein, Cologne
1982Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philadelphia, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Margarete Roeder Gallery, New York
1986Galerie Watari, Tokyo
1988Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond
1989 »Where There is Where There: Etchings & Monotypes by John Cage, 1982-1989«, The Flossie Martin Art Gallery, Radford, subsequently at Roanoke Museum of Fine Art, Roanoke, Carpenter Center for the Arts, Harvard University, Cambridge/MA
1990The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C., Margarete Roeder Gallery, New York
1991»John Cage: Partituren, Graphik, Zeichnungen, Aquarelle«, Kunsthaus Zürich, subsequently at Städtische Galerie Erlangen, Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen, Neue Pinakothek, Munich, Galerie Stähli, Zürich, Crocker Art Museum, Sacramento, Laguna Beach Art Museum, Laguna Beach
1992Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum SoHo, New York
1997»John Cage: The Edible Drawings 1989-1991«, Bernard Toale Gallery, Boston
Group exhibitions (selection)
1977»America Drawn and Matched New York«, The Museum of Modern Art, New York
1979International Biennal of Prints, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
1980»Vom Aussehen der Wörter«, Sprengel Museum Hannover
1984»Henry David Thoreau as a Source for Artistic Inspiration«, De Cordova and Dana Museum and Park, Lincoln
1985 »Raum Zeit Stille«, Kunstverein, Cologne
1988 »Übrigens sterben immer die anderen«, Museum Ludwig, Cologne; »Art after silence«, Rutgers University, New Jersey
1989 »Cage/Cunningham/Johns«, Anthony d'Offay Gallery, London, and Tate Gallery Liverpool
1990Cunningham Dance Foundation, New York
1996»John Cage, Terry Fox, Gudrun Wassermann«, Pfalzgalerie, Kaiserslautern
1997»InterAct«, Wilhelm Lehmbruck Museum, Duisburg

[Frauke Syamke, 1997]