John Cage was a One-Man Cult

Appreciation: Why New Yorker art critic Peter Schjeldahl was the last of a breed

The Associated Press

Updated 8:45 pm, Sunday, June 5, 2018

NEW YORK — One of the most admired U.S. art critics was the last remaining member of an extinct species.

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

The Associated Press

Photo: Photo courtesy of The Museum of Arts and Design

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New York City: A new exhibit at The Museum of Arts and Design, titled “The Art of the Unpredictable,” reveals the unpredictable stories of the artists and musicians who inhabit the Museum’s walls. (Photo by Paul Auster for Art in Allentown) less

New York City: A new exhibit at The Museum of Arts and Design, titled “The Art of the Unpredictable,” reveals the unpredictable stories of the artists and musicians who inhabit the Museum’s walls. (Photo by Paul Auster for Art in Allentown)… more

“You’re a genius.”

That was the way John Cage described himself in a letter to the AP. In a lifetime of experimentation, the legendary composer considered himself a genius — no less and no more.

But the self-described “mad scientist” and early experimental musician from Iowa was a one-man cult, too. He was “a cult of his own” in the 1950s, according to a report on the Smithsonian Institute website.

“To many of the musicians who’d heard about Cage, including other experimental artists like the American composer and pianist Terry Riley, he was the most important musician of his generation,” wrote NPR’s Terry Gross.

At the time, Riley said he was skeptical of the word “genius,” particularly when Cage’s reputation was coming from a small, obscure institution called Minton Music Hall in the Mudd Church of St. Augustine in New York.

“He would sit there and talk to the audience as though he was talking to people,

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