Works such as »Naked Lunch« and »The Soft Machine« made William S. Burroughs (1914 − 1997) world famous as an author of the Beat generation. As a leading countercultural figure who played a prominent role in the Punk movement down through the decades Burroughs influenced innumerable artists, filmmakers, and musicians, including David Cronenberg, Gus van Sant, Patti Smith, John Cage, Lou Reed, David Bowie, R.E.M., and Kurt Cobain. Numerous bands chose names and song titles from Burroughs’ works, and The Beatles immortalized him on the legendary cover of their album »Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band«.

By contrast, far less well known is the fact that as a multi-media artist Burroughs also produced an extensive, diverse body of work that no less experiments with audio tapes, film and photography, than it does with painting and collages. The extensive exhibition in the Falckenberg Collection − Deichtorhallen Hamburg, which is being organized in collaboration with the Center for Art and Media (ZKM) in Karlsruhe and the William S. Burroughs Estate, presents the author’s artistic oeuvre, examines the multiple affiliations between literary and experimental/creative output image production, and further expands our image of his oeuvre by presenting »collaborations« Burroughs undertook with other artists. Another highly interesting aspect of the exhibition is the inclusion of a series of works by contemporary international artists, who each make unambiguous reference to Burroughs’ writings and his method of »expanded media« and thus personally explore the creative potential from a present-day perspective.

The exhibition’s aim is to make William S. Burroughs retrospectively tangible as a phenomenon and legend, and at the same time for the first time in Europe to emphatically highlight the impact his ideas had on a worldwide network of authors, musicians and composers, painters, photographers, video artists, and filmmakers. At the beginning of the 21st century Burroughs is more than ever regarded as a pioneer of media art – especially on account of the experiments he conducted in the 1960s with painter, author, and inventor Brion Gysin, mathematician Ian Sommerville, and filmmaker Antony Balch,.

The exhibition showcases the poignant stages and encounters in the life of William S. Burroughs, with handwritten, typed, photo, audio and film documents that in some cases are seldom accessible. The creative oeuvre is documented in the form of more than 150 original exhibits, which to a large extent are on loan from the Estate of William S. Burroughs (in Lawrence, Kansas) managed by James Grauerholz, together with additional loans from public and private collections. Viewers thus get an impressive sense of Burroughs’ pictorial output and how it represents an original contribution to contemporary American art.

The exhibition also features works which, in the spirit of Burroughs’ and Brion Gysin’s joint project »The Third Mind«, were created in association with outstanding artists, namely Robert Rauschenberg, Keith Haring, George Condo, Robert Wilson, Francesco Clemente, Philip Taaffe, John Giorno, Laurie Anderson, Kurt Cobain, Patti Smith, and others.

Click here to view installation shots.


On the occasion of the exhibition at the ZKM Karlsruhe and Deichtorhallen Hamburg a book with an essay by Ian MacFadyen will be published by Verlag der Buchhandlung Walther König. Edited by Axel Heil. 24 Euro.