11 NOVEMBER - 12 DECEMBER 2004
The Singing Posters is an homage to Allen Ginsberg and his famous poem, Howl (1955-1956). When Ruppersberg, who teaches at UCLA, discovered that his students had never heard of Howl, he conceived The Singing Posters as a way to introduce that important work to a new generation. For the installation Ruppersberg translated the poem into phonetic spellings and reintegrated them into the original text. The “new” text is printed on approximately 200 vibrantly colored commercial advertising posters installed floor to ceiling on the gallery walls. A second part of the installation is Ruppersberg’s new photocopied book entitled Haul or Wave Goodbye to Grandma, an accumulation of images, newspaper and magazine clippings, photographs, and other miscellany that the artist has collected throughout his life.
Allen Ruppersberg participated in the groundbreaking 1969 exhibition When Attitudes Become Form as part of the generation of Conceptual artists that changed the way art was thought about and made. Ruppersberg works across media in a conscious effort to avoid stylistic categorization and in accordance with his belief that “every idea has its own form of representation.” The book, as both object and idea, often plays a central role in Ruppersberg’s work. In The Singing Posters, the artist draws upon graphic design styles of the period when Howl was published to make the text appear like a visual cacophony sympathetic to the barrage of images conjured up by the work. Ruppersberg uses text in his works to explore the relationship between author and reader. The Singing Posters is no exception. The “high culture” of poetry is communicated via the common language of advertising and the power of the reader/viewer is championed over that of the artist. The inclusion of phonetically spelled text emphasizes the gap between the poem’s dual life as both a written and spoken piece and the necessity of the viewer to bridge that divide.
Allen Ginsberg’s poem Howl debuted in 1955 at a reading in San Francisco and quickly became a hallmark text of the Beat generation. Ginsberg’s text is a jumble of images and buzzwords that vividly describe the social, political and historic state of America in the 1950s, and its format emulates the chaos of affairs felt at the time. On March 25, 1956, 520 copies of the poem were seized by U.S. Customs and the San Francisco police. A subsequent obscenity trial was brought against Lawrence Ferlinghetti, who ran City Lights Bookstore, the poem’s publisher. Nine literary experts testified on the poem’s behalf. Supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Ferlinghetti won the case, with the court deciding that the poem was of “redeeming social importance.” The case was widely publicized (articles appeared in both Time and Life magazines) ensuring the wide readership of Howl, which is considered to be one of the most significant modern American poems.
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Born in 1944 in Cleveland, Ohio, Allen Ruppersberg is one of the first generation of Conceptual artists that changed the way art was thought about and made. He graduated with a BFA from the Chouinard Art Institute in Los Angeles (now California Institute of the Arts) in 1967. During his early years in Los Angeles, Ruppersburg began significant relationships with John Baldessari, Ed Ruscha, William Wegman, and Allan McCollum. He is recognized as a seminal practitioner of installation art, having produced such influential works as Al’s Grand Hotel (1971) and The Novel that Writes Itself (1978). His work can be found in permanent collections of museums internationally including The Museum of Modern Art, New York; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Los Angeles County Museum of Contemporary Art; Foundation de Appel, Amsterdam, The Netherlands; and Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany, among many others. In 2005, the Düsseldorf Kunsthalle, Germany, will mount a retrospective of his work that will travel to other venues internationally. Allen Ruppersberg divides his time between New York and Los Angeles where he teaches at UCLA.