Conspicuous by their Absence: Women & Williams left out of Pompidou Beat Expo; San Francisco gets short shrift

beat-generation-kerouac-smallJack Kerouac, “The Slouch Hat,” 43 x 35.5, circa 1960. Oil and charcoal on paper.
Il Rivellino Gallery, Locarno. Jack Kerouac. © John Sampas, executor, the Estate of Jack Kerouac. Photo © il Rivellino Gallery, Locarno.

By Paul Ben-Itzak
Copyright 2016 Paul Ben-Itzak

To the memory of Eileen Darby, who witnessed it all, from Coast to Coast, and was always proud of her Bob Thompson.

“Who would you be, if reality were no obstacle?”
— Diane di Prima

PARIS — The genius of the exhibition “Beat Generation,” on view at the Centre Pompidou through October 3, is the latitude with which the term “multi-media” has been interpreted. Usually implicating little more than computers and screens with the occasional stand-alone sound recording thrown in (I’m not talking about shows dedicated to multi-media forms, but which promise high-tech tools to promote old-school artists), here the curators have used modern technological capabilities to invisibly — and ingeniously — enhance the exhibition with the (apparent) use of the technology of the epoch treated, notably the 1950s and ’60s. Thus a row of black rotary telephones near the entrance to the exhibition each marked at the white center of the device “Dial-a-Poet” isn’t just ambient decor. Dial a given single-digit number (with your actual digits) and your call is answered by the likes of Diane di Prima, John Giorno or Gary Snyder, reciting one of their poems. Beyond its period-appropriate utility for this particular exhibition, one can’t under-estimate the importance of this small touch in an epoch which, particularly in France, has too often primed technical capability over aesthetic relevance in the integration of high-technology in the arts. Here, for once, it’s the technology which is genuinely serving the museology. (Ironic in an age in which Silicon Valley Geeks often dress up as silicon “hipsters” without necessarily being hip to the cultural gestalt that inspired the original version. Allen Ginsberg must really be howling in his grave to see the technological servitude which has constrained the best minds of this generation. And at the spontaneity, madcap inventiveness, and organicness which has been sacrificed before this holy grail; why pump your Underwood with 36 meters of uncut paper when you can rewrite to machine perfection on your “Apple”?) (Some of the uninterrupted 36 meters on which Jack Kerouac composed “On the Road” is displayed in a long and narrow case near the entrance to the Pompidou exhibition.)

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