Jackson Mac Low


By J P

Jackson Mac Low (September 12, 1922 – December 8, 2004) was an American poet, performance artist, composer and playwright, known to most readers of poetry as a practioneer of systematic chance operations and other non-intentional compositional methods in his work, which Mac Low first experienced in the musical work of John Cage, Earle Brown, and Christian Wolff. He was married to the artist Iris Lezak from 1962 to 1978, and to the poet Anne Tardos from 1990 until his death. An early affiliate of Fluxus (he co-published An Anthology of Chance Operations) and stylistic progenitor of the Language poets, Mac Low cultivated ties with an eclectic array of notable figures in the postwar American avant-garde, including Nam June Paik, Kathy Acker, Allen Ginsberg, and Arthur Russell. His work has been published in more than 90 anthologies and periodicals and read publicly, exhibited, performed, and broadcast in North and South America, Europe, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand. He read, performed, and lectured in New York and throughout North America, Europe, and New Zealand, San Francisco, Santa Cruz, Asnières, Paris, Bouliac (near Bordeaux), Marseilles, Buffalo, Philadelphia, and New York.

The Drawing Center will present the first solo museum exhibition of visual works by Jackson Mac Low (1922–2004) that spans the multidisciplinary artist’s practice from the 1940s to the 2000s. Mac Low, who is known for composing poetry through chance procedures and automatism, first experimented with these creative processes in his drawings. 

Mac Low received his associate's degree from the University of Chicago in 1941—where he continued to take graduate courses in philosophy and literature into 1943—and his bachelor's degree in ancient Greek from the evening division of Brooklyn College in 1958.[4] The higher degree allowed Mac Low to support his artistic career as an instructor of English as a second language at New York University from 1966-1973 and as a reference book editor for many publishers, including Knopf, Funk & Wagnalls, Pantheon, Bantam, and Macmillan.

In 1965, Mac Low gave lectures on mousike for the newly founded Free University of New York.

From 1964 through 1980, Mac Low participated as a visual artist, composer, poet, and performer in the Annual Festivals of the Avant-Garde in New York. In 1968, he signed the “Writers and Editors War Tax Protest” pledge, vowing to refuse tax payments in protest against the Vietnam War. In 1969 he produced computer-assisted poetry for the Art and Technology Program of the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Beginning in 1981, Mac Low and Anne Tardos wrote, directed, and performed in seven radioworks.

In 1986 he received a Fulbright travel grant for New Zealand, where he was the keynote speaker at the Australia and New Zealand American Studies Association conference at the University of Auckland. He also participated in a composers’ conference and led a workshop in Nelson, New Zealand. He read, performed, was interviewed, and led workshops in Wellington, Dunedin, and Auckland as well.

In 1989 Mac Low participated in the Fine Arts Festival at the University of North Carolina. From 1990 to 1991, Mac Low served on the poetry panel of the New York Foundation for the Arts. In 1993, Mac Low and Anne Tardos gave a joint concert of their works for voices with prerecorded tapes at Experimental Intermedia, New York City. In January 1996 he presented readings and performances at Cowell College of the University of California, Santa Cruz.

In 2000, Mac Low performed two readings of his poetry at the Bjørnson Festival 2000 in Molde, Norway. He also unveiled a monument to Kurt Schwitters on an island off Molde.


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