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The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989

January 30 - April 19, 2009


From January 30 to April 19, 2009, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum will present The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860-1989, an exhibition that illuminates the dynamic and complex impact of Asian art, literature, music, and philosophical concepts on American art. The exhibition features approximately 250 works by more than 100 artists across a broad range of media-including painting, sculpture, video art, installations, works on paper, film, live performance, literary works, and ephemera-and draws from over 100 major museum and private collections in North America, Europe, and Japan.

The exhibition was conceived and organized by Alexandra Munroe, Senior Curator of Asian Art at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, and a leading authority on Asian art. In commenting on the show, Munroe said, "It is my hope that The Third Mind will be a revelatory exhibition, enabling visitors to see 130 years of American creative culture through an entirely new lens -- a lens that reveals the transformative influences of Asian art and ideas on the formal and conceptual achievements of American modern and contemporary art." 

Richard Armstrong, Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and Museum, remarked, "It is always exciting when an exhibition invites us to contemplate an historic span of creative culture from an entirely new perspective." Armstrong continued, "Everyone at the Guggenheim is looking forward to this stimulating exhibition and series of programs, and we are honored by the recognition of its scholarly and educational merits by the National Endowment for the Humanities." (right: James McNeill Whistler, Nocturne: Blue and Gold-Old Battersea Bridge, ca. 1872-75, Oil on canvas, 68.3 x 51.2 cm. Tate, London, Presented by the Art Fund, 1905. © Tate, London 2008)


Exhibition Overview

The Third Mind proposes a new art-historical construct -- one that challenges the widely accepted view that American modern art developed simply as a dialogue with Europe -- by focusing on the myriad ways in which vanguard American artists' engagement with Asian art, literature, music, and philosophical concepts inspired them to forge an independent artistic identity that would define the modern age and the modern mind. These artists developed a new understanding of existence, nature, and consciousness through their prolonged engagement with Eastern religions (Hinduism, Tantric and Chan/Zen Buddhism, Taoism), classical Asian art forms, and living performance traditions. Japanese art and Zen Buddhism dominated in part because America's political and economic ties with Japan were historically stronger than those with China or India, the other prime source nations examined in this exhibition.

Beginning with the late nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement that arose in Boston's transcendentalist circles, The Third Mind illuminates the Asian influences shaping such major movements as abstract art, Conceptual art, Minimalism, and the neo-avant-garde as they unfolded in New York and on the West Coast. It also presents select developments in modern poetry, music, and dance-theater. According to Ms. Munroe, "What emerges is a history of how artists working in America interpreted, mediated, and incorporated Eastern ideas and art forms to create not only new styles of art, but more importantly, a new theoretical definition of the contemplative experience and a new, self-transformative role for art itself." (left: Alvin Langdon Coburn, Regent's Canal, London, 1904, Photogravure print, 21.6 x 17 cm. George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York, Gift of Alvin Langdon Coburn )

The title of the exhibition refers to Untitled ("Rub Out the Word") from The Third Mind (ca. 1965), a "cut-ups" work by Beat writers William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, which combines and rearranges unrelated texts to create a new narrative. The mixed-media piece, which will be on view, evokes the eclectic method by which American artists adapted ideas from Asia to create new forms, structures, and meanings for their own art.

The Third Mind features over 100 artists and literary figures from artistic communities throughout the United States, including those in Boston, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, and Los Angeles. Selected for their demonstrable engagement with Asian art, thought, or forms of spiritual practice, the key artists represented in the exhibition include, chronologically: John La Farge, James McNeill Whistler, Mary Cassatt, Arthur Wesley Dow, Georgia O'Keeffe, Augustus Vincent Tack, Ezra Pound, Isamu Noguchi, Mark Tobey, Morris Graves, David Smith, John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg, Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Jack Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, Jordan Belson, Ad Reinhardt, Anne Truitt, Agnes Martin, Dan Flavin, Walter de Maria, Adrian Piper, Bill Viola, and Tehching Hsieh. 


Go to:

Exhibition Sections

Object Labels for the Exhibition

List of artists (In the exhibition and in The Third Mind Live performance cycle)

Exhibition Team

Exhibition Catalogue

Live Performances, Education, and Public Programs

The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and Asia


rev. 2/11/09


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