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Buddhism and the Neo-Avant-Garde

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"Buddhism and the Neo-Avant-Garde: Cage Zen, Beat Zen, and Zen"

From The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, 1860–1989
Alexandra Munroe
Published in 2009
17 pages, fully illustrated

"Buddhism and the Neo-Avant-Garde: Cage Zen, Beat Zen, and Zen" discusses the Western conception of Zen that shaped Conceptual art in the mid-to-late 20th century. While these Western variants might be misunderstandings of the more discipline-oriented Eastern original, Munroe asserts that they were integral to the conceptual strategies of the neo-avant-garde artists and the writers and poets of the Beat generation. Dividing the mediations of Zen into three categories, Cage Zen (after the influence of composer John Cage), Beat Zen, and Bay Area Conceptual art, Munroe explores the different permutations of Eastern influence. She offers both sides of the story, providing commentary from contemporary Zen Buddhist philosophers as well as the artists and writers that incorporated Zen into their artistic method.  


When Cage first met Rauschenberg, he described him as "'natural' Zen." Both were experimenting with allowing the random constellations and material of everyday life to demarcate fields of perceptual experience as art. Their collaboration "Automobile Tire Print" (1953) was a manifesto about just that: Cage drove his Model A Ford, with black paint applied to a back tire, over a long strip of paper that Rauschenberg placed on the street outside the artist's studio in New York. The car tire's abstract, linear imprint created what Walter Hopps calls a "quotidian icon."

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