Posts Tagged ‘William Burroughs

15
Oct
15

Text / exhibition: ‘David Bowie is’ at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI), Melbourne

Exhibition dates: 16th July – 1st November 2015

Melbourne Winter Masterpieces

 

 

This text was written for a special LGBTQI themed edition of the peer reviewed journal Fashion, Style and Popular Culture. At short notice, the co-editor asked me to write, and I quote, “a queer focussed review of the Bowie exhibition at ACMI.” When I delivered the piece below, it was rejected as not being academic enough. Apparently they wanted a deconstruction of the exhibition, its layout, construction, themes, lighting, and good and bad points. No mention of LGBTQI issues mind you. What the kind of review they wanted has to do with a LGBTQI themed issue, I have absolutely no idea. If they had known anything about my writing, they would have known they would not get academic speak, but something a little more interesting. Their loss, our gain.

The text focuses on Bowie’s impact on me at the time, as a gay man. Bowie is tight. Singing my all time favourite track of his, Young Americans, Bowie is a vocalist like no other. What a voice. Team that with charisma, soul, style, and all the moves … hands on hips, guitar slung backwards, padded shoulders to die for, cheekbones that you could cut with a knife and a presence that is just luminous. No wonder I loved him as an adolescent, he was my Hero. As someone commented on the YouTube live performance of the song (below), “ain’t there 1 goddam song that can make me breakdown + cry*”

This is a flawed but mesmerising exhibition. Allow three to fours hours at least. If you are a Bowie fan it’s a 100% must see; and if you are an aficionado of contemporary culture, you will be amazed at the sources Bowie draws from to create his art, his personas. It did no harm, either, that Bowie had access to some of the most creative designers in the world for his costumes and sets, but he was the inventive force. What a man, what an artist, not just a man who feel to earth, but a man who changed the world.

Dr Marcus Bunyan for Art Blart

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Many thankx to ACMI for allowing me to publish the art work in the posting. Please click on the photographs for a larger version of the image. Download the text Reflections on David: In a galaxy all of his own (kb pdf)

 

 

Bowie performing on Dick Cavett Show (4 of December 1974)

 

 

Reflections on David: In a galaxy all of his own

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The year was 1975. In London, six years after that seminal event of early gay liberation, the Stonewall Riots, six years after the landing on the moon, and six years after the release of David Bowie’s single, Space Oddity, I came out as a gay man age 17. At the time I felt a bit of a space oddity myself, troubled by my hidden identity and the double life I was leading. My first act of rebellion was to walk into a newsagent at Notting Hill Gate underground station, pick up a copy of Gay Times, fling the money at the store attendant and run from the place as red as a beetroot. I was so embarrassed.

Things quickly changed. I had been listening to Bowie’s music since my early days in boarding school – The Man Who Sold the World, Hunky Dory, Ziggy Stardust, Aladdin Sane – and now, after outing myself, I rocked up to the Royal College of Music with silver hair, wearing the most outrageous satin pink and white bomber jacket, with rings on every finger. I walked down St. Albans high street on a Saturday morning through the market in fake white fur coat and eye shadow. It’s only now, forty years later, that I realise I was channelling my inner Bowie.

This was the era of Campaign for Homosexual Equality (CHE) in England, where we had to gather in people’s lounge rooms to meet other gay men, or once a month at a disco in country Hertfordshire. Or we went to the Pan Club in Luton where drag queens peered imperiously down at us through a grill before they allowed us through the door. The best thing was going to Scandals or Adams night clubs in London, where we danced on illuminated glass dance floors (like in Saturday Night Fever) and wore our army uniforms. We could be whoever we wanted to be. And this was all influenced by the multiple persona of Bowie.

Like an intelligent bower bird, Bowie constructed his different personae through bricolage, building them from cultural signifiers such as German Expressionism, Marlene Dietrich, Sonia Delaunay, Metropolis, Hollywood, Japanese film, JG Ballard and Clockwork Orange, to name just a few. My gay friends and I did much the same. Like Bowie, for us it wasn’t so much about sexuality but about androgyny and the public play of gender (although the two are obviously interlinked). We adored David, a self-educated lad from a poor working class family, initially a Mod, who created his own universe of creatures and characters. Glam yes, but so much more than just putting on a costume like Kiss, David lived and breathed his worlds and we, his fans, believed in him. Not so much gender bender as cultural gender blender.

Critical to this time in my life was the period that followed Ziggy: Young Americans and the Thin White Duke. I got heavily into soul music, going to a basement nightclub behind Bang on Tottenham Court Road, where they played reggae, Barry White and the Love Unlimited Orchestra… and David Bowie. I used to pretend to be one of the back up singers on the song Young Americans: “Young American, young American, she wants the young American.” Bowie is tight. Singing my all time favourite track of his, Young Americans, Bowie is a vocalist like no other. What a voice. Team that with charisma, soul, style, and all the moves … hands on hips, guitar slung backwards, padded shoulders to die for, cheekbones that you could cut with a knife and a presence that is just luminous. No wonder I loved him as an adolescent, he was my Hero. As someone commented on the YouTube live performance of the song, “ain’t there 1 goddam song that can make me breakdown + cry*”. From talking to other gay men, I know that the Young Americans album was also critical for them – all cinched waist, high cheekbones, eye shadow, padded shoulders, flaming hair and soul music.

Australian disc jockey Stephen Allkins observed the same phenomena in Sydney. In a recent interview with me he commented, “My first introduction to the world of David Bowie was in 1975 when I was a 14 year old gay boy hanging out with my gay cousin, coming out unknowingly together. Young Americans was so damn funky and classy and totally different to anything that was happening in the white music world at the time. I couldn’t quite get my head around the way Bowie had gone from Ziggy and Aladdin Sane to the Thin White Duke and funk in one swoop, but I loved it. It’s hard to put into words how, as everyone else was glamming up, Bowie starting wearing suits and playing with the hottest funk band on the planet. No one else at that time moved or evolved with such speed and ease and he made me believe every look and note. He didn’t copy or just follow a trend to get noticed, he created and influenced several generations of people with his music and visual ideas. I say ideas because what he created visually was more than mere fashion, it became art. Looking back on all he’s done now, all that he did was art – musically, visually and sensually.”

Which leads me on to David Bowie is, an exhibition at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) in Melbourne. This is a fascinating but flawed exploration of the life of one of the world’s great artists. To see his early life, influences, and upbringing, and to have access to his personal archives – especially the wonderful sketches and storyboards showing his creative process – is invaluable. One of the strongest elements of the performance is how the exhibition links his art to the many cultural signifiers he used to construct it: from collage to construction. The costumes are magnificent including the additional Australian content, like the Pierrot costume from Ashes to Ashes. To see artefacts such as the original handwritten stanzas of Ziggy Stardust and Fame is as close as many of us will get to the source of greatness.

Much less successful was the thematic layout of the exhibition. Sections on film stars, 1930s, and Berlin cabaret (to name but a few), in non-chronological order, made it difficult to comprehend the development of each character and their place in the flow of time and space. While this assemblage of ideas might mimic how Bowie actually constructed his characters, quickly moving from one to another, and then reviving the same character many years later (for example, Space Oddity‘s Major Tom of 1969 and then creating a sequel in Ashes to Ashes in 1980), the imitative representation, or mimesis, of Bowie’s process in the layout of the exhibition simply did not work. Knowing how important Young Americans was to my own gay history, I searched for about 15 minutes with a guide from the exhibition looking for references to Young Americans and the influence of soul music on Bowie. We eventually found just two Thin White Duke suits tucked away right at the end of the show. In the bowels of the dark, subterranean bunker that is ACMI too many artefacts were crammed into too small a location. The artefacts, the ideas and the art have little room to breathe.

Having said that, this is still a mesmerising exhibition. Allow three to fours hours at least. If you are a Bowie fan it’s a 100% must see; and if you are an aficionado of contemporary culture, you will be amazed at the sources Bowie draws from to create his art, his personas. It did no harm, either, that Bowie had access to some of the most creative designers in the world for his costumes and sets, but he was the inventive force. What a man, what an artist, not just a man who feel to earth, but a man who changed the world. He was REAL, his personae were REAL, his art was REAL. He was an astronaut of inner space and when he looked down the barrel of the lens he spoke to young rebels in an authentic voice. He was our hero and no one else’s. As the singer Sylvester would later say: “You make me feel mighty real.” Chimerical, pansexual David, we love you!

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Dr Marcus Bunyan
October 2015

Word count: 1,390

 

Roy Ainsworth. 'David Bowie in The Kon-rads' 1963

 

Roy Ainsworth
Publicity photograph for The Kon-rads
1963
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

David or ‘Davie’ Jones, as he was then known, became heavily involved in London’s burgeoning music scene at a young age. Before leaving school at the age of 16, he had already joined the band The Kon-rads, playing saxophone and singing vocals. Demonstrating the experimental energy that has driven his solo career, Bowie spent the 1960s trying out different musical, artistic and sartorial styles and performing with several different bands. In 1965 he changed his stage name to David Bowie. The exhibition features several objects from Bowie’s early career including sketches of set, costume and poster designs created for his first bands and footage of early performances.

 

Freddie Burretti (designer) 'Quilted two‐piece suit' 1972

 

Freddie Burretti (designer)
Quilted two‐piece suit
1972
Designed by Freddie Burretti for the ‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

 

On 6 July 1972 David Bowie performed Starman, the first single from his album The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars, on BBC One’s Top of the Pops. This pivotal performance was crucial in making Bowie a music star and is acclaimed as a watershed moment which changed rock music and youth culture forever. Appearing on national television with flame-orange hair, make-up, multi-coloured clothing and red patent boots, Ziggy’s otherworldly look and sexual ambiguity created a seismic shift in pop culture. The exhibition features the original suit and boots created by Freddie Burretti and designed in collaboration with Bowie, who took inspiration from the costumes worn by the ‘droogs’ street gang in Stanley Kubrick’s film adaptation of A Clockwork Orange (1971).

 

Ziggy Stardust | David Bowie

 

Kansai Yamamoto. 'Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour' 1973

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer)
Masayoshi Sukita (photographer)
Striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour
1973
© Sukita / The David Bowie Archive

 

 

Bowie first saw the work of Japanese fashion designer Kansai Yamamoto at the exhibition Kansai in London in 1971. He could not afford the original designs so copied the look instead, recruiting friends such as Natasha Korniloff and Freddie Burretti to create cheaper versions of Yamamoto’s signature bodysuits and platform boots. After the success of Ziggy Stardust, Bowie approached Yamamoto and commissioned a set of even more flamboyant stage costumes for the Aladdin Sane tour in 1973. These outfits, inspired by the style of Japanese samurai and kabuki actors, are outrageous, sculptural and eye-catching. The exhibition features several Kansai Yamamoto costumes including the black and white striped bodysuit and a white cloak with Japanese kanji lettering spelling out ‘David Bowie’. A flamboyant suit from Yamamoto’s 1971 exhibition which he gifted to the V&A at the time is also on display.

 

'Red platform boots for the 1973 'Aladdin Sane' tour' 1973

 

Red platform boots for the 1973 ‘Aladdin Sane’ tour
1973
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer) 'Metallic bodysuit' 1973

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer)
Metallic bodysuit
1973
Designed by Kansai Yamamoto for the ‘Aladdin Sane’ tour
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Brian Duffy. 'Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane' 1973

 

Brian Duffy
Album cover shoot for Aladdin Sane
1973
© Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

 

 

“The Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI) today launched the critically acclaimed exhibition celebrating one of the most influential artists in music, film and video, fashion and performance. David Bowie is comes to ACMI from London’s Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) for a strictly limited season from 16 July 2015 as part of the Victorian Government’s Melbourne Winter Masterpieces series.

Seen by over 1 million people worldwide at sell-out shows in London, Chicago, Sao Paolo, Paris, and Berlin, David Bowie is was conceived by the prestigious V&A in London, where it premiered in March 2013 before quickly becoming V&A’s fastest selling show. This once-in-a-lifetime experience, now in its only Australasian season, is set to take Melbourne by storm.

Drawing upon unprecedented access to objects from the David Bowie Archive, the exhibition charts the extraordinary career of the boy from London who became an iconic artist and cultural innovator. David Bowie is features over 50 legendary costumes, original stage set designs, handwritten lyric sheets, album artwork, rare film, video and photographs, and interviews with key collaborators. Special displays explore the artistic chameleon’s continuing influences as a musician, stage performer, writer and actor.

ACMI Director and CEO, Katrina Sedgwick, says the groundbreaking exhibition is testament to Bowie’s profound and everlasting impact as a true pioneer in music, fashion and culture. “We are thrilled to be hosting the Australian incarnation of David Bowie is… It is an exhibition that not only illuminates the extraordinary breadth of Bowie’s creative genius and his enormous impact over the decades – but it is also a beautifully curated and staged experience that will delight the many thousands of people who will see it in the coming weeks and months.”

The V&A’s curators, Victoria Broackes and Geoffrey Marsh, from the Museum’s Department of Theatre and Performance, selected more than 300 objects and films for the show. Of the exhibition they said; “We are absolutely delighted to see David Bowie is travel to ACMI. Bowie himself has a long-standing relationship with Australia, including creating the music videos for Let’s Dance and China Girl there. We hope that the exhibition meets the expectations of his extensive Australian fan base.”

The exhibition offers insight into Bowie’s early years and his first steps musical greatness. The creative aspiration of the young David Robert Jones are showcased by early photographs and Bowie’s sketches for stage sets and costumes created for his bands The Kon-rads and The Delta Lemons in the 1960s. Bowie’s first major hit Space Oddity (1969) and the introduction of the fictional character Major Tom inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey granted him critical and commercial success as an established solo artist. His cinematic influences abound with his elaborate storyboards and set design for the Diamond Dogs tour (1974) inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927).

Excerpts and props from Bowie’s on-screen performance in films including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Labyrinth (1986), Basquiat (1996) and The Prestige (2006) show how Bowie has continually explored different notions of character and drawn together the numerous cultural influences that feed into his work. On display is the original multi-coloured suit worn for the pivotal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in July 1972. An interactive audio-visual display presents some of Bowie’s most ambitious music videos including DJ (1979) and The Hearts Filthy Lesson (1995). Immersive, large-scale projections show recently uncovered footage of Bowie performing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 and excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker’s film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973).

Bowie’s collaborations with artists and designers in the fields of fashion, sound, graphics, theatre, art and film are explored throughout the exhibition. On display are more than 50 stage costumes including Ziggy Stardust bodysuits (1972) designed by Freddie Burretti, Kansai Yamamoto’s flamboyant creations for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973), and the Union Jack coat designed by Bowie and Alexander McQueen for the Earthling album cover (1997). An area has been dedicated to the monochrome theatricality of Bowie’s Berlin period and the creation of the Thin White Duke persona identified with the Station to Station album and tour (1976). It also investigates the series of experimental records he produced between 1977 and 1979 whilst living in Germany, known as the Berlin Trilogy.

More personal items such as never-before-seen storyboards, handwritten set lists and lyrics are also featured in the exhibition as well as some of Bowie’s own sketches, musical scores and diary entries, revealing the evolution of his creative ideas. ACMI is the exclusive Australasian venue for a strictly limited season of David Bowie is. The ACMI season includes a curated program of talks and special events, late night programs, film screenings and live performances.”

Press release from ACMI

 

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Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Ziggy Stardust jumpsuit designed by Freddie Burretti (1972)

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Alexander McQueen Union Jack coat designed in collaboration with David Bowie for the Earthling album cover

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

David Bowie and Freddie Burretti (designer)
Bodysuit with graphic print (replica)
‘Ziggy Stardust’ tour and album cover
1972

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Kansai Yamamoto striped bodysuit for the Aladdin Sane tour (1973)

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne

 

Installation photographs of the exhibition David Bowie is at the Australian Centre for the Moving Image, Melbourne
Photographer: Mark Gambino

 

 

Exhibition overview

The exhibition offers insight into Bowie’s early years and his first steps towards musical success. Tracing the creative aspirations of the young David Robert Jones (born 1947 in Brixton, London), it shows how he was inspired by innovations in art, theatre, music, technology and youth culture in Britain during the aftermath of the Second World War. Pursuing a professional career in music and acting, he officially adopted the stage name ‘David Bowie’ in 1965 and went through a series of self-styled changes from Mod to mime artist and folk singer to R&B musician in anticipation of the shifting nature of his future career. On display are early photographs and Bowie’s sketches for stage sets and costumes created for his bands The Kon-rads and The Delta Lemons in the 1960s.

This opening section concludes with a focus on Bowie’s first major hit Space Oddity (1969) and the introduction of the fictional character Major Tom, who would be revisited by Bowie in both Ashes to Ashes (1980) and Hallo Spaceboy (1995). Inspired by Stanley Kubrick’s 1968 film 2001: A Space Odyssey, the single was released to coincide with the first moon landing and was Bowie’s breakthrough moment, granting him critical and commercial success as an established solo artist.

The exhibition moves on to examine Bowie’s creative processes from song writing, recording and producing to his collaborations on costume designs, stage sets and album artwork. Showing how Bowie works within both established art forms and new artistic movements, this section reveals the scope of his inspirations and cultural references from Surrealism, Brechtian theatre and avant-garde mime to West End musicals, German Expressionism and Japanese Kabuki performance. This section traces the influence of these movements on Bowie’s own work, including the evolution of the lavishly produced Diamond Dogs tour (1974), the design of which was inspired by Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis (1927) and George Orwell’s novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949). The tour combined exuberant choreography and a colossal set design, taking the combination of rock music and theatre to new heights. On display are previously unseen storyboards for the proposed musical that Bowie would eventually transform into the Diamond Dogs album and touring show.

In addition, this section chronicles Bowie’s innovative approach to creating albums and touring shows around fictionalised stage personas and narratives. 1972 marked the birth of his most famous creation; Ziggy Stardust, a human manifestation of an alien being. Ziggy’s daringly androgynous and otherworldly appearance has had a powerful and continuous influence on pop culture, signaling a challenge of social conventions and inspiring people to shape their own identities. On display is the original multi-coloured suit worn for the pivotal performance of Starman on Top of the Pops in July 1972, as well as outfits designed for stage characters Aladdin Sane and The Thin White Duke. Costumes from The 1980 Floor Show (1973), album cover sleeves for The Man Who Sold the World (1970) and Hunky Dory (1971), alongside fan material, highlight Bowie’s fluid stylistic transformations and his impact on social mobility and gay liberation.

Excerpts from Bowie’s on-screen performances in films including The Man Who Fell to Earth (1976), Labyrinth (1986), Basquiat (1996) and The Prestige (2006) show how Bowie has continually explored different notions of character and drawn together the numerous cultural influences that feed into his work. Footage and photography of recording sessions for Outside (1995) and ‘Hours…’ (1999) as well as handwritten lyrics and word collages inspired by William Burroughs’ ‘cut up’ method of writing that have never previously been publicly displayed, reveal Bowie’s working processes from writing to recording.

This expansive retrospective also celebrates David Bowie as a pioneering performer concentrating on key performances throughout his career. An interactive audio-visual display presents some of Bowie’s most ambitious music videos including DJ (1979) and The Hearts Filthy Lesson (1995). Immersive, large-scale projections show recently uncovered footage of Bowie performing Jean Genie on Top of the Pops in 1973 and excerpts from D.A. Pennebaker’s film Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars: The Motion Picture (1973).

An area has been dedicated to the monochrome theatricality of Bowie’s Berlin period and the creation of the stylish Thin White Duke persona identified with the Station to Station album and tour (1976). It also investigates the series of experimental and pioneering records he produced between 1977 and 1979 whilst living in Germany, known as the Berlin Trilogy. Finally, David Bowie is features a display of striking performance and fashion photography taken by photographers including Helmut Newton, Herb Ritts and John Rowlands. These professional portraits are juxtaposed with a collage of visual projections illustrating Bowie’s immense creative influence and ubiquitous presence in music, fashion and contemporary visual and virtual culture.

 

Freddie Burretti (designer) 'Ice-blue suit' 1972

 

Freddie Burretti (designer)
Ice-blue suit
1972
Designed for the ‘Life on Mars?’ video
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Music video by David Bowie performing Life On Mars? Taken from the album Heroes

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer) 'Asymmetric knitted bodysuit' 1973

 

Kansai Yamamoto (designer)
Asymmetric knitted bodysuit
1973
Designed for the ‘Aladdin Sane’ tour
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Masayoshi Sukita. 'David Bowie' 1973

 

Masayoshi Sukita
David Bowie
1973
© Sukita / The David Bowie Archive

 

Photograph by Terry O'Neill with colour by David Bowie. 'David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974' 1974

 

Photograph by Terry O’Neill with colour by David Bowie
David Bowie with William Burroughs, February 1974
1974
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Terry O'Neill. 'Promotional photograph of David Bowie for 'Diamond Dogs'' 1974

 

Terry O’Neill
Promotional photograph of David Bowie for ‘Diamond Dogs’
1974
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

David Bowie – BBC Live – Diamond Dogs & John, I’m Only Dancing (January 1975)

 

David Bowie. 'Photo-collage by David Bowie of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth' 1975-6

 

David Bowie
Photo-collage by David Bowie of manipulated film stills from The Man Who Fell to Earth
1975-6
Film stills by David James
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive, Film stills
© STUDIOCANAL Films Ltd., Image
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

'Cut up lyrics for 'Blackout' from "Heroes"' 1977

 

Cut up lyrics for ‘Blackout’ from “Heroes”
1977
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

'Print after a self‐portrait by David Bowie' 1978

 

Print after a self‐portrait by David Bowie
1978
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

Brian Duffy. 'David Bowie during the filming of the 'Ashes to Ashes' video' 1980

 

Brian Duffy
David Bowie during the filming of the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video
1980
© Duffy Archive & The David Bowie Archive

 

'Original storyboards by David Bowie for the 'Ashes to Ashes' video' 1980

 

Original storyboards by David Bowie for the ‘Ashes to Ashes’ video
1980
Courtesy of The David Bowie Archive
© Victoria and Albert Museum

 

David Bowie – Ashes To Ashes

 

 

Australian Centre for the Moving Image (ACMI)
Federation Square, Melbourne, Australia

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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

 

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.

 

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Jack Kerouac the last time he visited my apartment 704 East 5th Street, N.Y.C.… Fall 1964' 1964

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

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

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Jack Kerouac, railroad brakeman's rule-book in pocket…206 East 7th Street near Tompkins Park, Manhattan, probably September 1953' 1953

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

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. (…)

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William Burroughs, 11 pm late March 1985, being driven home to 222 Bowery…' 1985

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Myself seen by William Burroughs…our apartment roof Lower East Side between Avenues B & C…Fall 1953' 1953; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

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

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William S. Burroughs looking serious, sad lover's eyes, afternoon light in window…New York, Fall 1953' 1953; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

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.

 

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 ageing, 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 [Online] Cited 01/09/2010 no longer available online

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Neal Cassady and his love of that year the star-crossed Natalie Jackson…San Francisco, maybe March 1955' 1955; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William Burroughs' 1953

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'Peter Orlovsky at James Joyce’s grave' 1980; printed 1984-1997

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

Allen Ginsberg. 'William Burroughs at rest in the side-yard of his house... Lawrence, Kansas May 28, 1991…' 1991

 

Allen Ginsberg (American, 1926-1997)
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
© 2010 The Allen Ginsberg LLC. All rights reserved

 

 

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

Opening hours:
Monday – Saturday 10.00 am – 5.00 pm
Sunday 11.00 am – 6.00 pm
The Gallery is closed on December 25 and January 1

National Gallery of Art website

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Dr Marcus Bunyan

Dr Marcus Bunyan is an Australian artist and writer. His art work explores the boundaries of identity and place. He writes Art Blart, a photographic archive and form of cultural memory, which posts mainly photography exhibitions from around the world. He holds a Dr of Philosophy from RMIT University, Melbourne, a Master of Arts (Fine Art Photography) from RMIT University, and a Master of Art Curatorship from the University of Melbourne.

Marcus Bunyan black and white archive: ‘Mask’ 1994

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