Billy Name’s mentor Nick Cernovich worked at the time in a Zen bookstore, another big influence. Buddhism was all the rage among downtown artists such as Ray Johnson, and Warhol surely absorbed Zen’s penchant for repetition in his own silkscreen prints. “You can’t really understand Andy Warhol or any of these people—John Cage or any of them—without understanding Zen,” said Bibbe Hansen. “All these people who were interconnected were going to Zen classes, and even people who weren’t regularly practicing, like my dad, Al Hansen, would drop in once in a while.” Zen practices informed John Cage’s Untitled Event, a proto-Happening produced in the summer of 1952 at Black Mountain College. Standing on a stepladder and wearing a suit and tie, Cage read passages on “the relation of music to Zen Buddhism” as David Tudor played a “treated” piano and Merce Cunningham danced through the aisles. The space was also decorated with Robert Rauschenberg’s provocative White Paintings (in a Zen-like gesture, the canvases were completely painted white). “Rather than being predetermined,” art historian Judith F. Rodenbeck wrote, “the interactions of any given set of actions with any other was the result of aleatory juxtaposition of performances as perceived by an audience at a particular moment, creating a temporal collision. Thus anything that happened, according to Cage, ‘happened in the observer himself.’” By the late 1950s, Cage and his partner Cunningham would incorporate these strategies while working in their studio in the Living Theatre building.
From Chapter 3 of The Downtown Pop Underground — order online, or from a local independent bookstore