Gonzo Gallery in Aspen showcases the visual art of William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg
IF YOU GO …
What: ‘Flower Power x Fire Power,’ Allen Ginsberg and William S. Burrough
Where: Gonzo Gallery, 601 E. Hyman Ave
When: Opening receptions Friday, July 17 & Saturday, July 18, 6-10 p.m.
More info: The gallery will host an outdoor panel discussion with Ginsberg Trust TK Peter Hale, curator Yuri Zupancic, musician and activist DJ Spooky and gallery director Daniel Joseph Watkins on Sunday, July 19 from 5 to 7 p.m.
The Beat Generation literary lions William S. Burroughs and Allen Ginsberg are together again in a new show at the Gonzo Gallery in downtown Aspen.
The pop-up gallery — which this week expanded into a large commercial space at the corner of Hyman Avenue and Hunter Street from its more modest adjacent space — will open a new exhibition Friday presenting side-by-side the visual art of these eternally rebellious American authors.
“Their lives were works of art,” said gallery director Daniel Joseph Watkins. “They were writers, of course, and their work spread into the visual realm as well.”
The show includes 27 works by the pair, among them black-and-white photos by each, shotgun art and collages by Burroughs from the 1980s and 1990s and drawings by Ginsberg from the same period.
The pair, both of them lightly fictionalized by Jack Kerouac in “On the Road” and elsewhere, emerged as polar ends of the Beat movement: Ginsberg the poet who birthed the watershed “Howl” and later the “Flower Power” peace movement; Burroughs the brilliant nihilist and prose innovator behind “Naked Lunch” and “Junky” known for his cut-up method.
Their later-in-life artwork reflects those differing viewpoints. Titled “Flower Power x Fire Power,” the show aims to display how Ginsberg’s peace-loving and gentle outlook existed harmoniously with Burroughs’ scabrous and grim life philosophy from the Beats’ brief ’50s heyday through their deaths in 1997.
“They were pushing each other and their differing viewpoints forced them to rethink some of their perspective on things,” Watkins said.
Curator Yuri Zupancic noted that Burroughs and Ginsberg were in dialog about visual art in correspondence from soon after they met in the 1940s, and both were serious visual artists. But they rarely exhibited their work.
“They felt pressure in their time not to present themselves as visual artists,” said Zupancic. “It was taboo, in a way, to present yourself as more than one type of artist.”
Curators like Zupancic, through galleries like the Gonzo and museum shows like “Beat Generation” at the Pompidou Center in Paris in 2016, have in recent years shed light on the Beats, Burroughs and Ginsberg as interdisciplinary artists.
Anyone interested in the mythical lives of the Beat Generation authors will find some delight in seeing the photographs in the show, which capture the pair as well as Beat figures like Gregory Corso and Peter Orlovsky together in Tangier — where Burroughs, a Kansan, spent much of his life — and of Burroughs with fellow expat author Paul Bowles.
The artworks on view — ranging in price from $750 to $32,000 — include Burroughs paintings on file folders from the early 1990s and his works of shotgun art from Watkins’ collection (a March 2013 show at an earlier iteration of the Gonzo Gallery focused solely on Burroughs’ shotgun art and included rare pieces from the Burroughs archive in Kansas).
Burroughs’ shotgun art, a body of work the author began making in the 1980s, created imagery made by shooting paint onto and holes through nontraditional art surfaces like targets, books and posters. Among the most striking in this show are a colorful metal “no trespassing sign” shot up and sun-faded, and “Secret Service Agent,” a sepia-toned poster of a man in a suit pointing a gun at the viewer, with a Burroughs-drawn red target on it and gunshots through the paper.
Aspenites may be familiar with the shotgun art form through the works of Hunter S. Thompson, with whom Burroughs collaborated on artworks and who made his own beginning in the 1990s. Thompson’s longtime creative partner Ralph Steadman also worked with Burroughs on shotgun art pieces. One is included in the Gonzo Gallery show.
The show also includes a handful of absurdist ink-on-paper drawings by Ginsberg from the 1980s (the double entendre-inspired “Dragon Coming” a highlight), a bullet casing signed by Burroughs, ephemera and posters.
With social distancing practices and mask wearing mandatory inside the Gonzo in keeping with public health restrictions, the gallery is hosting receptions Friday and Saturday night. Outside on Sunday evening it will stage a panel discussion with the Ginsberg Trust’s Peter Hale, former Burroughs estate curator Yuri Zupancic, musician and activist DJ Spooky and Watkins.