Cut-Ups: William S. Burroughs 1914 – 2014

NYC's Boo-Hooray gallery debuts a centenary exhibition dedicated to the unconventional technique


In October 1959, artist Brion Gysin sliced through a pile of newspapers that were scattered atop his desk. Taken by their presentation, he began to rearrange the clippings and connect passages in the way he found most humorous. Little did he know, this act would inspire colleague William Burroughs to make famous an entirely new artistic technique known as cut-ups—the act of creating new assemblings of text from scraps of previous printed word. NYC’s Boo-Hooray gallery, in conjunction with Emory University, is now presenting “Cut-Ups,” a comprehensive showcase of Burroughs’ work within the medium—and more. Rarely seen publications like the mimeographed newsletter The Burrough and the Sigma Portfolio will be on view along with hand-edited typescript drafts from the Nova Trilogy. The exhibition also features correspondence with Gysin and the original cut-up paper components that Burroughs would turn into his novels.


All of the materials in the exhibition hail from Emory University’s Raymond Danowski Poetry Library—a collection of rare books, magazines, audio recordings and visual art assembled by collector Raymond Danowski over 25 years. The vast collection was donated to Emory in 2004. According to “Cut-Ups” co-curator Johan Kugelberg, “The Raymond Danowski library is no doubt the most important gathering of post-war poetry in America. Mr. Danowski’s vision as a collector and curator of American cultural thought is peerless.” Kugelberg curated the showcase with Kevin Young, “who runs the joint for Emory” and “is a master thinker/hepcat.” Together, they had a view in mind to present the vision of Raymond Danowski as much as that of Burroughs.


Familiar or not with the works of Burroughs, Kugelberg notes, “It is always fascinating when the reveal of literary process is in front of us. One wall of the exhibit brings a text from original cut-up components to finished literary manuscript. It is completely nutso to actually see it. The wings of history start flappin’ like tornado blasts when you eyeball them.” And while this technique was clearly influenced by the work of Dadaists, its impact is undeniable. With Burroughs work, readers easily left the world of linear narrative venturing across space and time.

“Cut-Ups: William S. Burroughs 1914-2014” will be on view from 7 November through 12 December 2014 at Boo-Hooray, 265 Canal Street, 6th Floor, NYC.

Images courtesy of Boo-Hooray