Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker
Jed Birmingham on William S. Burroughs Collecting
Once upon a time I worked with a guy who collected posters. Banksy. Shepard Fairey. Robbo. Street artists who moved from working the side of buildings to hanging works inside the white cube. It was nothing for this guy to get two, three tubes a day. Each with a poster in them. Sometimes multiple posters. Occasionally I would stop by and ask him what came in that day and he could never keep track of any of it. In fact, he never opened the tubes. There were rows and rows of poster tubes in his office. All of them were still sealed up. At first it drove me crazy. Opening packages is part of the fun of collecting. How could he sit in his office with all those presents around him? Did he have no curiosity? No sense of fun? He said his house was the same way. Then it hit me one day that an office full of unopened tubes of Banksy, Shepard Fairey and Robbo was a fitting museum for the work of these artist/pranksters. And then later I walked by his office and his office was completely cleared out. He just vanished. For a brief second I was like what if this guy is another Banksy and I was part of an extended performance piece on the nature of collecting street art. And then I heard there were bagels in the office and I forgot about it in my rush for an everything.
Anyway I was thinking about this guy the other day when I came across a signed copy of Henri Chopin’s “Poster for Burroughs,” originally issued as a folded poster in Chopin’s Revue OU 38-39. Hey, I have that poster! But where the hell is it? Like my office mate, I have accumulated my own museum of unseen posters, which resides under a reading nook in my house. A pile of tubes sitting inside a bench. Only two of my posters are framed for display. The hot pink Colloque de Tanger poster from 1975 printing Legarde’s The New Reformers photo of Burroughs’ and Gysin’s heads superimposed on the torsos of two statues of Martin Luther and a friend (available now for $200 from Skyline Books) and a signed copy of the Sigma Project No. 1 Moving Times poster.
Chopin’s Poster for Burroughs is not in my poster tube graveyard as my copy, like many, was folded as it was issued. The paper is thick cardstock and the silkscreened gold ink is really thick as well. So thick in fact that I feel the poster should never have been folded in the first place since the gold ink cracks and peels and the paper does not fold cleanly. The signed copy available from The Idea of the Book for $715 on Abebooks (a tip: go to their website where it is listed for $650) has never been folded which is a definite selling point. Whether that and the signature make it worth $650 is up to you but there is an unsigned, folded copy available from William Allen Word & Image for $435.52 (but there will also be shipping from London, which is pricey). I can say that if these prices hold up in the marketplace that my copy has appreciated steadily from the time I bought it from the Muss-Dog back in the day.
I remember when I got the package, bought sight unseen, that I was disappointed when I opened it. I could not see past all that gold paint. It is truly lathered on. And I hated how the poster was folded. The whole thing struck me as a mess and I just folded it back up and put it away somewhere. The Idea of the Book attempts to make the paper and the ink a selling point claiming, “The uncoated paper has absorbed various amounts of the gold pigment resulting in a detailed mottled texture which lets the letterforms pop.” It pops in that the ink and texture slaps you in the face. The question is whether that is pleasing or not. Looking at it online, demottled and detextured, Chopin’s design has grown on me. Burroughs as an exclamation point makes me think of the photographs of Burroughs in Tangier in 1961, when he was at his most cadaverous. This was also Burroughs at his most experimental; Burroughs as poet and visual artist. This is the Burroughs that I feel Chopin captures with his concrete poem-poster design. Burroughs as exclamation point suggests Burroughs as knife blade. Burroughs of the cut-ups. This is My Burroughs territory. The Burroughs that gets me excited!!! But for now the Chopin poster remains a question mark until I can find it again. Hmmm, let me see, where should I look first?