John Cage's influence explored in 'Get Lucky'
Kenneth Baker
Saturday, January 7, 2012

"Get Lucky: The Culture of Chance" at SOMArts will make some visitors wish for a more systematic genealogy of John Cage's artistic aftermath - a project that someone may one day attempt. Meanwhile, this one, co-organized by Justin Hoover and Hanna Regev, holds many pleasures and surprises.

"Get Lucky" gathers works by 29 Bay Area artists to celebrate the persistent influence of Cage 20 years after his death. As Kyle Gann and other commentators have noted, the nature of Cage's influence on composers and other artists depends on whether they knew him. Only a couple of people involved in "Get Lucky" did, so the exhibition mainly probes his posthumous influence.

Cage (1912-1992) personified good humor, curiosity and readiness to consider any creative course of action that might have liberating effects on himself or others.

Many people acquainted secondhand with his ideas or his work - particularly his use of chance procedures to avoid decision making and personal taste - regard his influence as destructive, parallel to that of his Dadaist friend Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968).

But anyone who talked with Cage soon found such a position unacceptably simple. Gann quotes composer William Duckworth as saying that "at first, I thought that Cage had given me permission to do anything I wanted to - a benign anything goes. But lately, I've been feeling that Cage's real influence was the instilling of an understanding that dedication, and the committing of time to what you believe in, is of the utmost importance, and creates a very different kind of composer than one focused on fame and fortune."

"Get Lucky" contains a lot of work that reflects the sort of discipline that indeterminacy disguises in Cage's work, as well as the permission it implies to defy all orthodoxy.