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Collecting Rare Books and First Editions - William S. Burroughs and the Arts

There are a lot of "what ifs" in book collecting. What if I had bought this and not that? What if I had more money? Or more time? What if I collected this and not that? "What if I did not collect William Burroughs?" is a question I consider. In a piece I wrote over a decade ago, I came to the conclusion that I would have collected Charles Olson instead. The question that serves as the boundary I can never cross or the horizon I can never see beyond is "What if I did not collect?" Such a question throws my very existence into doubt like "What if my parents never met?" If I did not collect, I quite simply would not be the same person I am now.
Published on 22 Sept. 2018
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By Jed Birmingham


There are a lot of “what ifs” in book collecting. What if I had bought this and not that? What if I had more money? Or more time? What if I collected this and not that? “What if I did not collect William Burroughs?” is a question I consider.

In a piece I wrote over a decade ago, I came to the conclusion that I would have collected Charles Olson instead. The question that serves as the boundary I can never cross or the horizon I can never see beyond is “What if I did not collect?” Such a question throws my very existence into doubt like “What if my parents never met?” If I did not collect, I quite simply would not be the same person I am now.

Another question that I often consider is “What if I did not collect Burroughs’s little magazine appearances?” This came to mind this week when I received my latest purchase in the mail: a program for an art exhibition involving David Budd, Earle Brown, and William Burroughs at the Galerie Stadler in Paris in 1964.

I love these little programs and buy them when I get the chance. An interesting collection could be made by collecting Burroughs the artist rather than Burroughs the writer - or I should say “Burroughs the novelist,” since I consider cut-up texts such as Time, APO-33, and The Dead Star artist’s books and some of the finest examples of Burroughs’s talent as a visual artist.

If the Maynard and Miles bibliography was the blueprint for the foundations of my Burroughs little magazine collection, Robert Sobiezek’s Ports of Entry would be the guidebook for constructing an archive on Burroughs the artist. Besides the artist’s books mentioned above, such a collection would also acquire Burroughs’ later collaborations with Keith Haring, George Condo, and Robert Rauschenberg. The Third Mind material done with Brion Gysin has been institutionalized but until recently the raw material relating to Ah Pook by Malcolm Mc Neill was still available. Such material would be a centerpiece to a Burroughs-as-artist collection. Similarly, Joseph Zinnato, a major Burroughs collector, was able to get his hands on the proofs and drafts relating to the C Press edition of Time and make that material a cornerstone of his collection.

Of course there is the late period visual art from manila folder to the shotgun paintings. From what I can tell, much of this art is available to the collector. Patricia Elliott, friend and neighbor of Burroughs in Lawrence, had several pieces for sale just a few years ago. In connection with the visual art, there are also the ephemera associated with Burroughs’ gallery shows, like the one I just received relating to Galerie Stadler. I have a real soft spot for these programs. The Budd / Burroughs / Brown program is just plain cool visually. For the more ambitious, it might be worthwhile to collect all the reviews of these shows that appeared in art magazines or newspapers. Thus an archive could be gathered on the critical reception of Burroughs the artist.

Then we have Burroughs the art critic. Again there are some great ephemera with Burroughs’s small essays on Takis as well as some clunkers. A collector would have to lower his standards to pick up the horribly designed Paintings and Guns by Hanuman Books. Other collectors find these little gems cute. They are not for me although I find some of the texts to be fascinating.

Looking through my collection, I have the humble beginnings of a Burroughs as artist collection: Paintings and Guns, the Mimeo Revolution artist’s books, a handful of gallery catalogs. But this is a beginning that I will unfortunately not take to its conclusion (if a conclusion to a collection is ever possible), which is a shame because I think such a collection would be fun to compile and to research. Then it occurred to me to open a gallery on RealityStudio dedicated to Burroughs as artist. I am posting the bits and pieces that I have, but we at RealityStudio would love it if other collectors sent us images and write-ups of art-related pieces from their collections. For example, if you own a Burroughs painting, take a clear photograph of it and send it in with the background information on the piece as well as a short (or long) write-up. This could be as simple as how you acquired it, a personal impression about what the piece means to you, or a more formal piece of art criticism. If you have a program, scan it and send it to the site. The same goes for reviews of Burroughs’ art shows from newspapers and magazines. We are also posting a bibliography for what a Burroughs as Artist collection would look like. This is clearly a work in progress. If you have any edits and suggestions, please send them in.


Collecting like art is for everybody and the creation of this gallery provides an opportunity to get into the action.

o Bibliography of William S. Burroughs and the Arts

o Checklist of William Burroughs Art Exhibitions by Barry Miles

o Reviews of Burroughs Art Exhibits


William Burroughs and the Arts


1961 Guy Harloff Exhibit - Guy Harloff, exhibition catalogue, Galerie “La Cour d’Ingres” 1961

1962 Takis Exhibit – Takis, exhibition catalogue, Galleria Schwarz 1962

1963 Bizarre Magazine - Bizarre Magazine 1963

1964 David Budd Exhibit - David Budd rencontre William Burroughs et Earle Brown, Galerie Stadler 1964

1967 Takis Exhibit - Takis, Magnetic Sculpture, exhibition catalogue, Galerie Stadler 1967

1969 Architectural Design Magazine - Architectural Design 1969

1988 Tony Shafrazi Gallery - William Burroughs exhibit catalogue, Tony Shafrazi Gallery 1988

1988 Burroughs Exhibit at October Gallery (London) - William Burroughs exhibit catalogue, October Gallery 1988

1988 Burroughs Exhibit at Klein Gallery (Chicago) - William Burroughs exhibit postcard, Klein Gallery 1988

1989 Burroughs Exhibit at Galerie Specht (Basel) - William Burroughs exhibit catalogue, Galerie Specht 1989

2005 Burroughs Exhibit at Riflemaker Gallery - Burroughs exhibit catalogue, Riflemaker Gallery 2005

Undated Postcard for Mrabet Exhibit at Gotham Book Mart - Gotham Book Mart. Anyone have the date?

Note: this material focuses on printed publications, not notebooks, sketchbooks, manuscripts, or paintings.

(Posted on Reality Studio. Reports from the Bibliographic Bunker. Presented here by permission of the author. For technical reasons only five pictures are posted here. For all pictures please visit the Reality Studio website.)


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