01
Sep
10

Exhibition: ‘Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.

Exhibition dates: 2nd May – 6th September 2010

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Many thankx to Anabeth Guthrie and the National Gallery of Art, Washington for allowing me to publish the photographs in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N.Y.C.… Fall 1964’
1964
gelatin silver print
image: 29.5 x 20.8 cm (11 5/8 x 8 3/16 in)
sheet: 35.5 x 27.5 cm (14 x 10 13/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘Francesco Clemente looking over hand-script album with new poem I’d written out for his Blake-inspired watercolor illuminations…Manhattan, October 1984…’
1984
gelatin silver print
image: 40.4 x 27 cm (15 7/8 x 10 5/8 in)
sheet: 50.5 x 40.5 cm (19 7/8 x 15 15/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘Jack Kerouac, railroad brakeman’s rule-book in pocket…206 East 7th Street near Tompkins Park, Manhattan, probably September 1953′
1953
gelatin silver print; printed 1984-1997
image: 34.8 x 23.5 cm (13 11/16 x 9 1/4 in)
sheet: 51.7 x 40.5 cm (20 3/8 x 15 15/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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“Some of the most compelling photographs taken by renowned 20th-century American poet Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997) of himself and his fellow Beat poets and writers – including William S. Burroughs, Neal Cassady, Gregory Corso, and Jack Kerouac – are the subject of the first scholarly exhibition and catalogue of these works. Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg explores all facets of his photographs through 79 black-and-white portraits, on view at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, from May 2 through September 6, 2010.

The works are selected largely from a recent gift to the Gallery by Gary S. Davis as well as from private lenders. Davis acquired a master set of Ginsberg’s photographs from the poet’s estate, including one print of every photograph in Ginsberg’s possession at the time of his death. If more than one print existed, Ginsberg’s estate selected the one with the most compelling inscription. In 2008 and 2009 Davis donated more than 75 of these photographs to the National Gallery.

“We owe an enormous debt of gratitude to Gary Davis for his dedication to Ginsberg’s work and for his donations to the National Gallery,” said Earl A. Powell III, director, National Gallery of Art. “Joining other large and important holdings of photographs by such 20th-century artists as Harry Callahan, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, André Kertész, Irving Penn, Alfred Stieglitz, and Paul Strand, this Ginsberg collection will allow future generations to study the evolution of the visual art of this important poet in all its rich complexity and to assess his contributions to 20th-century American photography.”

The same ideas that informed Ginsberg’s poetry – an intense observation of the world, a deep appreciation for the beauty of the vernacular, a faith in intuitive expression – also permeate his photographs.

When Ginsberg first began to take photographs in the 1950s, he – like countless other amateurs – had his film developed and printed at a local drugstore. The exhibition begins with a small selection of these “drugstore” prints.

The exhibition showcases examples of his now celebrated portraits of Beat writers such as Burroughs, Kerouac, and Ginsberg himself, starting just before they achieved fame with their publication, respectively, of Naked Lunch (1959), On the Road (1957), and Howl (1956), and continuing through the 1960s. In the photograph Bob Donlon (Rob Donnelly, Kerouac’s ‘Desolation Angels), Neal Cassady, myself in black corduroy jacket… (1956), Ginsberg captures the tender, playful quality of his close-knit group of friends. (…)

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Allen Ginsberg
‘William Burroughs, 11 pm late March 1985, being driven home to 222 Bowery…’
1985
gelatin silver print
image: 19.7 x 18.9 cm (7 3/4 x 7 7/16 in)
sheet: 25.4 x 20.3 cm (10 x 8 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘Myself seen by William Burroughs…our apartment roof Lower East Side between Avenues B & C…Fall 1953’
1953; printed 1984-1997
gelatin silver print
image: 28.58 x 43.82 cm (11 1/4 x 17 1/4 in)
sheet: 40.5 x 50.5 cm (15 15/16 x 19 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
Now Jack as I warned you” … William Burroughs… lecturing…Jack Kerouac…Manhattan, 206 East 7th St. Apt. 16, Fall 1953′
1953; printed 1984-1997
gelatin silver print
image: 28.3 x 44.2 cm (11 1/8 x 17 3/8 in)
sheet: 40.4 x 50.2 cm (15 7/8 x 19 3/4 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘William S. Burroughs looking serious, sad lover’s eyes, afternoon light in window…New York, Fall 1953’
1953; printed 1984-1997
gelatin silver print
image: 19.2 x 29 cm (7 9/16 x 11 7/16 in)
sheet: 27.9 x 35.2 cm (11 x 13 7/8 in.)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Photographs such as The first shopping cart street prophet I’d directly noticed… (1953) and Ginsberg’s apartment at 1010 Montgomery Street, San Francisco (1953), reveal his self-taught talents and careful attention to the world around him.

The second section of the exhibition presents Ginsberg’s later photographs, taken from the early 1980s until his death. These images were immediately embraced by the art world in the 1980s, and works such as Publisher-hero Barney Rosset whose Grove Press legal battles liberated U.S. literature & film… (1991) and Lita Hornick in her dining room… (1995) were exhibited in galleries and museums around the world. Prestigious institutions acquired Ginsberg’s photographs for their permanent collections, and two books were published on his photographic accomplishments. Ginsberg was not simply a happy bystander, witnessing these events from afar; he was one of the most active promoters of his photography. With their handwritten captions by Ginsberg himself, often reflecting on the passage of time, his photographs are both records and recollections of an era.

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Allen Ginsberg (1926–1997)

Allen Ginsberg began to take photographs in 1953 when he purchased a small, secondhand Kodak camera. From then until the early 1960s, he photographed himself and his friends in New York and San Francisco, or on his travels around the world. At the same time, he was formulating his poetic voice. Ginsberg first commanded public attention in 1955 when he read his provocative and now famous poem Howl to a wildly cheering audience at the Six Gallery in San Francisco. It was published the following year by City Lights Books with an introduction by William Carlos Williams.

Together with On the Road (1957), written by Kerouac, Howl was immediately hailed as a captivating, if challenging expression of both a new voice and a new vision for American literature. Celebrating personal freedom, sexual openness, and spontaneity, Ginsberg and Kerouac came to be seen as the embodiment of a younger generation – the Beats – who were unconcerned with middle-class American values and aspirations and decried its materialism and conformity. Ginsberg abandoned photography in 1963.

In 1983, with this rich, full life largely behind him, Ginsberg became increasingly interested in ensuring and perpetuating his legacy. Inspired by the discovery of his old negatives and encouraged by photographers Berenice Abbott and Robert Frank, he reprinted much of his early photographs and made new portraits of longtime friends and other acquaintances, such as the painter Francesco Clemente and musician Bob Dylan. With his poetic voice refined, Ginsberg, also added extensive inscriptions beneath each image, describing both his relationship with the subject and his memories of their times together.

Unlike many other members of the Beat Generation whose careers were cut short, Ginsberg wrote and published deeply moving and influential poetry for the rest of his life, including Kaddish (1961), his soulful lament for his mother, and The Fall of America: Poems of These States, 1965 –1971 (1972), which was awarded a National Book Award in 1974. Using his fame to advance social causes, he also continued to capture public attention as an outspoken opponent to the Vietnam War and American militarism and as a champion of free speech, gay rights, and oppressed people around the world. In the midst of this popular acclaim, Ginsberg’s photographs have not received much critical attention, especially in the years since his death in 1997.

Although Ginsberg’s photographs form one of the most revealing records of the Beat and counterculture generation from the 1950s to the 1990s, tracing their journey from youthful characters to aging, often spent figures, his pictures are far more than historical documents. Drawing on the most common form of photography – the snapshot – he created spontaneous, uninhibited pictures of ordinary events to celebrate and preserve what he called “the sacredness of the moment.”

Press release from the National Gallery of Art website

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Allen Ginsberg
‘Neal Cassady and his love of that year the star-crossed Natalie Jackson…San Francisco, maybe March 1955’
1955; printed 1984-1997
gelatin silver print
image: 24.9 x 38 cm (9 13/16 x 14 15/16 in)
sheet:  40.5 x 50.5 cm (15 15/16 x 19 7/8 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘William Burroughs’
1953
gelatin silver print
image: 10.2 x 15.2 cm (4 x 6 in.)
sheet: 11.3 x 16.1 cm (4 7/16 x 6 5/16 in.)
Howard Greenberg Gallery, New York
© Copyright 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘Peter Orlovsky at James Joyce’s grave’
1980; printed 1984-1997
gelatin silver print
image: 19 x 28.5 cm (7 ½ x 11 ¼ in.)
sheet: 27.8 x 35.5 cm (10 15/16 x 14 in.)
Collection of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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Allen Ginsberg
‘William Burroughs at rest in the side-yard of his house… Lawrence, Kansas May 28, 1991…’
1991
gelatin silver print
image: 22.23 x 33.02 cm (8 3/4 x 13 in)
sheet: 27.9 x 35.4 cm (11 x 13 15/16 in)
National Gallery of Art, Gift of Gary S. Davis
Copyright (c) 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved.

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National Gallery of Art, Washington DC
The National Gallery of Art, located on the National Mall between 3rd and 7th Streets at Constitution Avenue NW, is open Monday through Saturday from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. and Sunday from 11:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The Gallery is closed on December 25 and January 1.

National Gallery of Art website

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2 Responses to “Exhibition: ‘Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg’ at the National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.”


  1. September 2, 2010 at 9:10 pm

    Comments: Jack looks hellish sad there in that first photo, was he posing that? As Allen says starting to look like his father. Photo 7: 1953, the only time I’ve seen Burroughs looking handsome. Great photos, thanks for posting. Al of ‘Kerouac Beat_Happening’ site.


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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes the Art Blart blog which reviews exhibitions in Melbourne, Australia and posts exhibitions from around the world. He has a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne and is currently studying a Master of Art Curatorship at The University of Melbourne.

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