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He Was An Outsider; Now, A Retrospective

July 14, 2010

Film of work — collages, paintings, words, self images– of Brion Gysin, now showing at the New Museum

(**All Words and Images captured  by Susan M. Kirschbaum)

Who was Brion Gysin? He’s been dead some fourteen years and his paintings — often renderings done on grids or calligraphic flights of fancy resembling English, Chinese, Arabic or all three — could also be interpreted as dedications to language as much as visual mood enhancers. William Burroughs, the writer and adventurist, came up with the idea of “cut ups” through the inspiration of his pal Gysin. Burroughs would clip headlines and photographs and collage them to compose a story of their own. He called these collages “navigational words.” The New Museum now presents the first retrospective of Gysin’s work, including his collaborations with Burroughs in the early Seventies, most notably “cut ups” that the two titled “the third mind.” The idea centered on two minds creating together form an independent third, evident in the work. Some of this mind you’ll find in the galleries on display, along with fruit hued paintings and a film showing a “dream machine,” a light manipulation device that make up maven Helena Rubenstein once bought. Sitting in the dream machine was thought to soften the mind, create hallucinations, and thereby inspire new images and word associations.

Gysin — born in the UK but living in Paris and Tangiers– was not accepted by the established art community in his lifetime. He mixed painting, writing, word play, and performance art. These days that could make him a star of the MySpace generation. In many ways, this exhibit makes sense. You get the idea that this guy really lived, explored, and what he left behind testifies this. One part of his expression only opens up a cavern into another, resulting in a full experience; and while he might have gawked at the term, a methodical one.

I read something on the wall, that Gysin wanted to “liberate words from language.” Of course, without the rules of language, words become psycho babble. But I think that was the intent. After all, don’t we all want to return to the womb unfettered, naked, free, saying whatever, what the hell? (Brion Gysin — now through October 3rd — at the New Museum, 235 Bowery, NYC.)

Work of Brion Gysin

Collage by William Burroughs

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