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"On the Road" Beatnick Photography by Ed Ruscha Displayed at Athenaeum

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The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library will present On the Road, photography by Ed Ruscha from Feb. 15 with an opening reception from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. through March 23.


In 1951, Kerouac wrote On the Road on his typewriter as a continuous 120 foot-long scroll, recording in twenty days his experiences during road trips in the U.S. and Mexico in the late 1940s. With its publication in 1957, Kerouac was acknowledged as the leading voice of the Beat Generation, a group of writers that included Allen Ginsberg and William Burroughs.


Ed Ruscha created his own limited edition artist’s book version of On the Road in 2009, published by Gagosian Gallery and Steidl and illustrated with photographs that he took, commissioned, or found. Ruscha has created an entirely new body of paintings, photographs, and drawings that take their inspiration from passages in Kerouac’s novel.


A selection of these images, along with the artist’s book—which is in the Athenaeum collection—will be on display in the Joseph Clayes III Gallery. The complete set of Ed Ruscha’s artist’s books, also part of the Athenaeum’s Artists’ Books Collection, will be displayed in the North Reading Room.


In addition, the Rotunda Gallery presents Raul Guerrero: The Beatniks


The Beat Generation was a group of American post-World War II writers who came to prominence in the 1950s, as well as the cultural phenomena that they both documented and inspired. Central elements of Beat culture included experimentation with drugs, alternative forms of sexuality, an interest in Eastern religion, a rejection of materialism, and the idealizing of exuberant, unexpurgated means of expression and being.


Still Life with Beatnik Poster; 2012 (see right), represents a collection of cultural artifacts, coffee cup, indigenous images, and a fictional Beatnik poster, they collectively represent a portrait of past present and future (procreation). This collage was created in the same spirit of improvisation and chance found in Beat poetry, writing and jazz riffs of the 1950's, see Thelonius Monk. This artistic approach echoes the stylistic structure of chance and thought found in Kerouac's novel On the Road, a literary chronicle of chance encounters while on the road.


The word “beat” was primarily in use after World War II by jazz musicians and hustlers as a slang term meaning down and out, or poor and exhausted. In a June 1959 Playboy article titled "The Origins of the Beat Generation," Kerouac explained that the linguistic root of the word “beat” also carried connotations of beatitude or beatific. When the term “Beat Generation” began to be used as a label for the young people called “hipsters” or “beatsters” in the late 1950s, the word “beat” lost its specific references to a particular subculture and became a synonym for anyone living as a bohemian or acting rebelliously or appearing to advocate a revolution in manners.


The Athenaeum Music & Arts Library is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. The library is closed on Sunday and Monday. 

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