Margrétardóttir, Hildur

Famous Friends And Family

line drawings of pages of the British tabloid papers and a text by Jonatan Habib Engqvist, soft cover, 28 not numbered pages, 24 x 16 cm, 1st ed., (Mosfellsbaer) 2008

EUR 12,50

Margrétardóttir Famous Friends And Family

Hildur Margretardóttir’s FAMOUS FRIENDS AND

     Since decades the job of an artist has been presented, at least by academics, as initially an effort to arrive at a suitably avant-garde position in the arts, in order to gain credibility as a “modern” artist or more recently as a post-modernist by following one or another of several preordained paths. Some, and only some, of the stylistic paths that present themselves to the artist wishing to be seen as “modern” or “postmodern” might be as follows : rejection of all subject matter (minimalism), rejection of the merely “visual” or all but the reasonable and cerebral (conceptualism), rejection of all reference to familiar reality and especially the human figure (abstraction), rejection of order, reason, quality and distinctions between things of value and refuse(Dadaistic, anarchic, junk and garbage art) and the representation of advertising, show business, fashion and commercial product imagery as high art (American Pop Art).

     Is Hildur Margretardóttir choosing something close the latter path? Is she wishing to find entrance into the modern/postmodern art game by finding yet another seemingly “unsuitable” subject for Art - the Rich and the Famous - high end, tin pot celebrity super stars of the super market tabloid press, in her book FAMOUS FRIENDS AND FAMILY, printed in Iceland in 2008? This comes a half a century after the American Pop Artists on the coat tails of the European Dadaists continued the latter’s excavations around in the mountain of here-to-fore “unworthy” subject matter - not unworthy because it is mundane or banal or low-down or marginal but because it is cribbed from popular, fashionable, glamorous commercial show business already manufactured or “ready-made” culture.

     The artist informs us that. “ ...the art works are ink drawings, inspired by the birtish[sic] tabloid papers.”

      One could therefore consider this work to be yet another footnote to the founding tenets of Pop Art (at least in it’s most plagiaristic form) which sought to confuse the distinctions between the marketing imagery of consumerism and creations from the psyche of an artist.
     I don’t know. I do not know the actual intentions of the artist. I could only say that to my eye the drawings themselves are of value in themselves. They are portraits, obviously copied from photographs, but not exactly copied as with a tracing. They are not perfectly drawn. They sag and wobble just bit, just enough so that one can tell they are drawn by hand with instinct and feeling rather than with engineering skill, though there seems to be no exaggerated deliberate distortion which could result in characature.  Most of the drawings are fairly accurate never the less, and one recognizes who they are, if one knows of the persons portrayed. Although I for example have no idea who Victoria Beckham is and have no desire to know who she might be, this “our life is perfect in LA” person with a telephone shaped like a luxurious lady’s shoe, but can enjoy the drawings since the glamour masks seem to be pulled off here or seem to sag and melt through an applied process of aging by the refusal of the drawing to present the perfection that these stars labour to give themselves. This process of the slight imperfections in the drawing style clashing with the perfectionism of the lifestyle portrayed lends an “all too human” look to the wannabe above human icons of the glamour and celebrity domain and seems to give the drawings the subtle air of satire, though without obvious evidence of any such intention. Lettering in the inane comments from the tabloid pages certainly further erodes any sense that these are people “above the rest”.
     This book has a curious title : “Famous Friends and Family” and this may refer to the fact that often the performers on the TV screen become to the constant viewer as friends, perfect friends that never argue or criticize the viewer but whose nasty secretes are shared. They say the most witty, entertaining and clever things, unlike real friends, and, even better, one can instantly get rid of them unlike those annoying family members with their vain and amateurish attempts at making themselves glamorous and who scandalize the neighbours with their embarrassing dramas.
     In this sense the artist by allowing imperfections in her drawing style, in a way, allows the subjects to go from being seen as perfectly presented famous human masterpieces to clunky, imaginary friends in the TV box to just normally obnoxious “family” members. Victoria Beckham and others become that pushy sister or cousin who arrives at the family reunion dressed up as a queen or princess but everybody knows she ain’t as young as she used to be and had to go on Prozac - who is she kidding? Then there’s Margretardóttir’s untitled drawing of what could be Britney Spears in sun glasses holding a Chihuahua inside her blouse, again devoid not of all glamour but possessing only reduced glamour like that most popular girl in the class whom you went to high school with who got knocked up when she was seventeen and is now on her third divorce and a bit the worse for wear but still a hotty. Margretardóttir’s fluid, dextrous but imperfect and only partly accurate - Angelina Jolie cruelly robbed of her fat sensuous lips - drawing style seems in itself to reduce major celebrities to minor celebrities with warts and all, which in a sense is what our friends and family members are to us and is in the end the reason to have them. In their own ways - they do entertain.
     I always thought Amy Winehouse was just your garden variety coked-up drama queen-slut, “chick singer” until I actually heard her perform on Youtube and found her to be actually an incredible singer and great artist. Silly me. It seems that Margretardóttir’s drawings of Winehouse are not a matter of unmasking. Amy seems to have done an all right job of that herself, but these drawings of her show a sadness and a ruthless sense of self preservation and determination to survive that comes off as reality based rather than based upon faking a glow of happiness for the paparazzi.
     So even in the seeming superficialities of celebrityhood, to my eyes at least, there seems to be some authenticity or genuine human facts of life to be found. Perhaps this is what is really for sale in the tabloids and what Margretardóttir has been able to capture, or at least not obscure.
     Assuming that these stars will never see these portraits, they shall have nothing to complain about to the artist, another advantage in using them as subjects. One wonders if the artist will be able to find a way, as Alice Neel has done, to use her actual friends and family members as subjects, thus upping their celebrity status. It may not be an easy task. Ordinary humans are notoriously temperamental when it comes to their portraits. I wonder what David Hockney would say.

                                            Tom Wasmuth


(Hansen, Al) Al Hansen  An Introspective on the occasion of an exhibition, edited and with German texts by Heike Hoffmann, with many photo reproductions of works and texts by A.H., more German texts about him by Jürgen Raap, Jürgen H. Meyer and mostly English voices of people who knew A.H.: Eric Andersen, George Brecht, Günter Brus, Lisa Cieslik, Francesco Conz, Philip Corner, Jim Dine, Ken Friedman, Allen Ginsberg, Red Grooms, Gordon Hansen, Geoffrey Hendricks, Dick Higgins, Peter Hutchinson, Allan Kaprow, Ivan Karp, Alison Knowles, Dorothy Lichtenstein, Daniel Liszt, Jackson Mac Low, Anne Tardos, Newman, Claes Oldenburg, Raphael Montanez Ortiz, Jack Ox, Takako Saito, Holly Solomon, Daniel Spoerri, I.Schneider, Endre Tót, Sachor!, Stefan Wewerka, Robert Whitman, Carol Yankay, La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela, contains a biography (German) and an exhibition list, hard cover, 288 pages, 29 x 24,5 cm, printed on paper in different colours, Köln 1996

Hansen An Introspective 



1. What’s Happening? or then too : What Is a Happening?


On a bookshelf in Boekie Woekie, the Artist Books bookshop in Amsterdam, I have been very pleased to discover a catalogue of Al Hansen’s work called “AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE” published by the Kölnisches Stadt Museum for the exhibit in the Kölnische Galerie des Kölnischen Stadtmuseums, a product of collaborators in three cities, Cologne, Berlin and Amsterdam in 1996, a year after the artist’s death in Cologne, one of the European cities he loved and which seems to have loved him back equally. The book has an English section of statements by Al Hansen and tributes from friends, and the German part I can not comment upon due to my feeble grasp of this language. There is a trove of photos of the artist, and from the artist’s performances and of his colleagues contributing to the book. Also there is an abundance of pictures of his visual art with which, until I saw this book, I was mostly unfamiliar.


I met Al Hansen through Emmett Williams, the concrete poet, performance artist, editor and Fluxus pioneer who knew Al because they were both pillars of the Fluxus movement which was a group of more or less like-minded (somewhat like-minded?) outsider artists banded together by George Maciunas, the founder and anarchic ideologue of the movement [ see, Mr. Fluxus, Emmett's book on Maciunas for more on that story].


“He [Maciunas] was a special situation. These do not come down the track often Daddy-o and I have spent my life on the railroad.”



Emmett and I used to run into Al Hansen at Max’s Kansas City, the watering hole, meeting place and collision space where artists, writers an musicians of the day (mid 60’s) would gather. Emmett and I would meet there for dinner and then after Emmett got together with Ann Noel we all three would go to Max’s. I didn’t know a lot of people on the scene in those days, but Emmett seemed to know nearly everybody, so if you knew Emmett you met lots of the movers and shakers, of which Al Hansen was one, being one of the prime movers behind the Happenings part of the Experimental Theatre phenomenon in the New York of the early 60’s.


Al seems to have been mightily inspired by John Cage’s composition classes at the New School in 1958 although,  according to Dick Higgins, Al did not “understand” Cage’s music, or what Cage defined as music, referring to it as “complete noise, a hopeless mess”


“Here [Pratt Institute in Brooklyn] he was exposed in 1958 to the music of John Cage. He found it ‘complete noise, a hopeless mess’ which he could not understand, so he decided he must study with Cage, which he did starting in June 1958.”

-Dick Higgins, Al Hansen and the Un-Graven Image, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p.177.


Al may not have understood Cage’s music, (or may have understood that Cage called noise “music” instead of calling it “sound sculpture” or “aural collage”, or whatever ) but he did very much like Cage’s philosophical stand which “defined experimenting as to undertake a project without knowing what the result would be, yet deciding in advance to accept whatever happens, so the result is whatever happens or the happening”



Emmett and I performed in a Happening at Al’s Third Rail Theatre, I think it was called, when it was around the corner from where I lived on avenue D and 7th Street on the Lower East Side of the mid 60’s, ungentrified, among the Ukrainian piroshky and Puerto Rican cuche frito parlors and Jewish delis and candy stores.


Emmett and I had an event - events, one could say, were smaller Happenings that happened in the larger totality of The Happening, or could even be performed alone as things in themselves - that Emmett called “52 Pickup”. With a deck of cards in his hand he would ask me if I knew how to play 52 Pick Up, and I would say, what’s 52 Pick Up? and he would do a one-hand shuffle and the whole deck of cards would waterfall onto the floor and then he would say, Now you pick ‘em up, which I would then do. This was a trick well remembered from our pre-teenage years. But all I remember from that performance, though, is that I just happened to bend over in the Happening to pick up a card as an arrow went whizzing over my head, shot by another performer, and I mean a real arrow not one with a suction cup tip.

Al’s Happenings were known to be very open in their structure and one never knew what might happen in one of his Happenings. They were unscripted or very loosely scripted adventures into randomity. LaMonte Young and Marian Zazeela, the pioneers of electronic meditational drone music put it perfectly:


He [Hansen] was different from the other Happening people because his work was so relaxed and subtle the way it happened. Al’s Happenings were less pre-structured and very natural the way they took place. Some of the other Happenings were very, very structured and controlled, even contrived.

-La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela on Al Hansen, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p.223


2. Al the Talker


One fine night Al came over to our table at Max’s with his plastic bag full of manuscripts in progress and collage materials (“flotsam and jetsam” he called them) and he told us about, among other things, the “Flea Circus” at the Fun House/Penny Arcade at Times Square - live fleas actually performing tricks under bright lights in a cage on a table, so he claimed. Later I went to Times Square to check this out and there actually was some sort of device that you put money in or that appeared when a curtain was opened (I forget now) where live fleas performed sort of rudimentary “tricks.” Like climbing up a matchstick and saluting? Well, no...but...Again, the details have faded from my memory, but Al was not fabricating. Also Al told a story of his being in the Air Force, where after mouthing off to a superior officer over some disagreement, he was given the penalty of having to dig a hole six feet long, six feet deep, and three feet wide by a certain time (as in “dig your own grave”, I suppose) and when the officer came back to check up on Al, he had had already dug a second hole. That was Al Hansen - above and beyond the call of duty and no lack of dogged persistence, and this was somewhat of an unusual story to hear in an ”Art”-bar.


“He was a great and witty talker, full of cunning turns of phrase, and bewildering ideas, he knew everything about everybody, and he was a real spinner of myths and tales and a wonderful chronicler. It was as though all the thousands of people he knew were always having a meeting in his head, and he seemed to have convened them there to help him formulate his myriad plans and projects. He was practically an expert on everything, and tremendously concrete. He had plans for books, plans for exhibitions, for editions, for meetings, for dinners, simply for getting people together, for trips, for films, for dance events, for revolutions and innovations, as well as for all the possible ways of making money and what to do with it.”


-Francesco Conz, Remembering Al Hansen, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p.163.


3. NYC ; If You Can Get Out of Here,You Can Make It Anywhere.


One afternoon Emmett and I went out to Brooklyn, I think it was, to see Al who lived at the time in a small walk-up flat in your typical New York City tenement neighbourhood, and in the kitchen of this apartment on the kitchen table was a structure made out of hundreds of live, i.e. unignited, wooden matchsticks. It may have been a Ferris wheel or perhaps just a tall tower, but in any case it was at least remarkable for the painstaking concentration it must have taken to glue all those little wooden matches together into their precise positions, much as a ship in a bottle is remarkable when one tries to imagine how it got inside the bottle. However, strangely, nothing was said about this miraculous structure on the kitchen table, not by Al , not by Emmett and not by me. It certainly did not look like what one thought of as “Art “ in 1965. We came, we saw, we left, not mentioning it. I thought “maybe Al has a room mate, some old sailor or friend from the military that makes these crazy structures”. It was only years later that I saw one in an art magazine somewhere and realized this was something Al himself did, as art.


I was familiar with a couple of his Hershey bar wrapper collages of naked ladies that had been published around in various anthologies, but had no idea that he had done a huge amount of these things over the years as well as naked lady collages made out of match sticks (which have been lit and put out) and are quite mind boggling in their relaxed and flowing structure, which comes from his technique of somehow curving the matchsticks to flow with the ladies’ curves. How do you curve a matchstick and glue it down on paper? Why does it not straighten itself back up before the glue dries? These are questions that occur to one looking at these rather astonishing works in this book, of which there are also ones made out of cigarette butts, reliefs which are uncannily beautiful in their own right.


The trash he used, however, did not have the glamour of fashionable Warholian trash but was rather simply the remains of his “City Indian” life style, as Ken Friedman has observed.


“And then there was the time he had a job as a night watchman. Great job. He sat in his watchmansroom making collages. Venus after Venus of Hershey Bar wrappers and cigarette butts, killing at least three birds with one stone : grab a snack, have a smoke, make some art.

-Ken Friedman, Al Hansen, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, pp. 166-167.


Then there was the night that Emmett and I, neither one of us owners of a television set, met in our favourite Irish bar in Chelsea to watch Al’s appearance on “The Johnny Carson Show”, for years the most watched late night talk show in America. We were disappointed that they mostly treated him and his one man mini-happening as a curious oddity and practically an object of ridicule just as the show was going off the air, however he was still the only artist we would be likely to know to ever get on the program. Not his finest hour, but we alerted the elbow benders around us and cheered him on from our barstools. Go, Al!


After those years of running the streets in NYC, I lost touch with Al and only in picking up this book from Cologne did I get a sense of what he had been doing after the last time we really talked, in New York around 1974. We went out for a cup of coffee in a luncheonette somewhere in downtown Manhattan and talked about teaching. Though not a performance artist myself or practically not, I had been using texts from the Something Else Press, including his own book on Happenings with my college students up in New Paltz, since it seemed like something they could have some fun with, but as the sixties came to an end and Nixon came into the White House, the hootsie tootsie atmosphere had changed and there was a new grim seriousness in the air. There was a national reluctance to definitively face that Viet Nam had been a mistake, and there was bad music on the radio. I had given up my post in the art department at New Paltz and I think he was teaching at Rutgers in New Jersey and said to me, quite charitably, that I should have been teaching at MIT or some big university. Then I would have gotten the respect I deserved. Well thanks a lot, Al. I appreciated the thought. MIT, hmmm...Tut, tut. Maybe or maybe not, but I was by then long gone from academia, although the generosity of the remark is typical of Al.


4. Back to Europe, Back to the Future and Back to the Portable Studio


As I mentioned, it was not until i saw this catalogue from his Cologne retrospective that i realized the incredible amount of amazing visual art that Al did, especially after he started living around Europe in the 1980’s. (“IN THE LATE SEVENTIES I DECIDED TO SPEND THE EIGHTIES LIVING IN DIFFERENT WORLD CAPITALS AND REALLY GETTING TO KNOW THEM” p. 31) OK! a worthy project indeed! From the various texts by his friends now I get a new picture of Al as a sort of, what German speakers call a Stadt Indianer (City Indian), (or also called “der letzte Mohikaner”, p.216, by Endre Tot) not only the extraverted happenings director and late night lounge lecturer and one man information delivery service but also a hobo poet out of a Kerouac novel, going from one odd job to another in the Art World and other worlds, circulating all over town with his plastic bag as his laptop, full of flotsam and jetsam, spreading the gossip news on the jungle telegraph, sometimes so short on cash that he lived on Hershey bars, coffee and cigarettes, the residue of which he recycled into art works, cobbled together in restaurants, bars, on park benches, in trains or kitchen tables (“His studio was everywhere.”) which he then managed to sell here and there (“here and there” meaning even sometimes out of the back room at Castelli’s through Ivan Karp and he was collected by the likes of Jasper Johns, Claus Oldenburg and Allen Ginsberg).


Raphael Montanez Ortiz, Al’s performance artist buddy from New York was a frequent witness to Al’s production methods.


For Al there was no better way to make art than with friends, there was no better time to make art then, while in the midst of a conversation.

     With a beer or coffee in hand. Al without interrupting or losing track of a conversation, could reach under a chair and place a folder of silver, gold and bright coloured sheets of paper and two or three small shopping bags of various art materials, cigarette butts, match sticks and other remnants of discard on the table. Al could light a cigarette, while still talking, exhale smoke, while still talking, while taking a sip of beer, while reaching into the paper bags and folder, pulling out news clippings, candy wrappers, cigarette butts and wrappers, matches , glue, a pair of scissors, a rectangle of cardboard and make art.”


Raphael Montanez Ortiz, The following are my memories of Al Hansen, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, pp. 202-203.


Things started looking up for Al once he got to Europe, and that story is well told in the pages of AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE by his friends who got him the bar tab at Chins in Cologne and his pals from his other continental destinations where he seems to have gone deeply into to the local life.

I last saw Al one final time in Zurich in the early 90’s. He was dropping by to see my gallerist Marlene Frei and she invited me to drop by. At the end of the afternoon Al was whisked away by a couple of young Italian guys who were transporting him down to... Naples? no, now I think it must have been to visit Franscesco Conz, the publisher, collector, dealer, in Verona, because there is a picture in this book of Al sitting with Conz in 1990 and in the picture Al is wearing the same blue jeans with very wide cuffs turned up “stove pipe” style he was wearing that afternoon in Zurich, an old hobo tradition for those whose trouser legs are a bit too long but who don’t quite have a tailor or a seamstress, and a few years later I heard from Emmett that he had died.

The stories of his adventures are well told by his friends in this book and are far from boring..


6.Taking Off for Venus (The Venus Connection)


There is one person in this book called simply “Newman” with whom I am not familiar (surely not the postman from “Seinfeld” nor Barnet Newman. And surely not Randy.) who writes a nice summation of the visual art of Al Hansen: using as it’s material really the lowest of the low, really the off-casts of society, garbage, combining it with the highest of human ideals - like Venus - a Venus made of cigarette butts. Al’s work takes grand art themes (like this Venus) off a pedestal and raises up garbage (like these cigarette butts) to an artistic level to meet in the middle to transcend each other.

-Newman on Al Hansen, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p.200.


One could say his was a life committed to more or less constant artistic production, but with low cost, found materials (Wolf Vostell called Al, “Our Schwitters.”) which he gathered trucking around town, maybe from bar to bar or place to place filling his plastic bag full of found raw materials out of which came his pictures, and often yet another version from another angle of the same subject, the Goddess first seen in the early sixties, made from Hershey bar wrappers, a Goddess no doubt as delicious and nourishing to him as the chocolate that kept him going in hard times.


“Hey! He! She! Yes! Hershey!” He was rather dapper and debonaire for an old hobo and certainly had a way with the women. They liked him and that may have rubbed some people the wrong way. I think of Al now as a shameless force of nature tomcatin’ around town who luxuriated in voyeurism and sensuality and drained that cup to the last drop.


Even as kid he was powerfully drawn to the opposite gender.


“I was always getting little girls to get their clothes off. I was quite a peeping Tom too, and there was not a shower or a bath for blocks around that I couldn’t get to from the backdoor roof or a tree. I sat entranced and watched couples coupling. I knew more than half the women for blocks around as reflective perfumed soapy nubile nymphs in their bathrooms. There were all the comic strip women and stage and movie, vaudeville and radio stars as well. All of them and the real girls and women of all the school classes, ice cream parlours, bars, yards, and visually invadeable bathrooms, toilets and bedrooms of Richmond Hill, Queen County, Ozone Park, Long Island New York are in my mind and shining as jewels in a wonderful necklace of personal history in time. It is a miracle I never became a gynaecologist or some such.

-Al Hansen, I have always been in search of the goddess, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p. 101.


Of course the ruffled feathers brigade became agitated. Never-the-less, Al did not deviate, or one might say, he continued to deviate. His was a tribute to the lady he called early on “The Hep Amazon”(“hep” being a term from jazz musician slang of the 1940’s a word which was later replaced by “hip”, both complimentary terms of the highest order upon which the likes of Norman Mailer and Lord Buckley have extemporized). His was a tribute to the Goddess, in all of her guises that he could discover.

I think women can do anything. The Amazon legend is not a myth. I have a crush on the mayor of Chicago and the President of Iceland, the female paratroopers of Israel and the American Airborn units, I adore older women, I celebrate little girls and young women. I have been misused, abused, misunderstood, attacked, lied to, stabbed in the back and totally destroyed by goddesses, princesses, harlots, tarts and kid sisters with hearts of gold.

I have also received love, warmth, friendship, aid, goodness incalculable in terms of wealth from the wonderful legion of women who have enriched my life. They continue to do so. I love it. I love it. Ecco!

-Al Hansen, I have always been in search of the goddess, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p. 101.


6. Light of Heart but No Lightweight


In a way there are two strains in Al’s art, one the creation of exuberant chaos - destruction in art, pianos out the window, unscripted happenings and all the collisions and debris that can produce, plus his gossip delivery service, but secondly to balance the extroverted tendency in his teaching, talking and theatre/performance works, there was his more introspective world of writing, cutting, gluing, and painting which produced the astonishing output of visual works and the published and unpublished writing (including a science fiction novel written at an early age if I understand the introductory essay by Heike Hoffmann in German in this book).


Al Hansen's Hershey bar goddesses and matchstick cathedrals somehow... well maybe, to the dismay of some, they trumped a few other modernists of his generation.

Because these works touched allot of bases. They were not merely notable because they were eccentric and purely innovative. They displayed a hint of found concrete poetry (“He and She” etc, from the Hershey bar wrapper), a Pop and New Realist sensibility in borrowing familiar, trivial, banal designs from every day life, but did not stop there but were distant relatives of folk art, tribal art, cave paintings, petroglyphs, African junk sculpture and have an element of clumsily handmade art brut, and his writing included a certain beatnik “On the Road” hobo lonerness if not loneliness, as well as a hint of 52nd Street Hipster culture and hard edge New York City night club humour not from metropolitan Manhattan but from the taxi driving, fire fighting, bar tending, beat walking wise acres of Queens, with a slight dash of Rodney Dangerfield, and at the same time he had a very literate and informed familiarity with what was great in modern cinema and theatre.


This brings to mind a society in New York started by Al and Ivan Karp which dedicated itself to the saving of interesting ornamental pieces of old buildings that were being recklessly demolished, where even decorative sculptural details would be disposed of.


As I said, the society we started was called “The Anonymous Arts Recovery Society”. It was originally called “The Sculpture Rescue League”. Then we called it “Rubble without Applause” because there was a famous movie here called “Rebel without A Cause”. So we changed it to “Rubble without Applause” which means the kind of thing we were saving were not celebrated, most people considered it just dust, unimportant things.

-Ivan Karp on Al Hansen, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p. 184.


7. “Laugh and the World Laughs with You. Cry, and You Cry Alone.” (as Emmett was fond of saying)


“I would say that the most important thing I have to say with my art is that art can be fun, that art need not be serious.”

-Al Hansen, A H A I, p.125.


Maybe the jokiness and wry humour, which was somehow apparent in most of what Al did gave these works a slightly more European than American atmosphere.


“ a way we were a reaction to...abstract expressionism...exploring dada ideas that poked fun at the seriousness of art.”


Just as Al’s work was hard to pigeon hole and could not be filed entirely under one category or trend, so it was too with some other European based artists of his generation like Fillou, Williams and Roth who also shared his talent for making people laugh.


[I can not resist inserting the story here of how around 1964 I was walking through Paris one day down by the Seine, and as I passed the Sonnabend Gallery, those folks who introduced American Pop Art to Europe, the door opened and out walked Michael Sonnabend, the husband of Ileana Sonnabend, the gallerist, accompanied by two Russians in big fur hats and heavy coats, to whom he was just saying as I passed, “so you see, American Pop art is just Capitalist Realism” ]


But back to the main point that Humour seems to me to be a key added ingredient in Euro-Art starting in the 60’s, that seems less present to my eyes with for example American Pop Artists of the New York school, aside from the likes of Dine and Oldenburg.

Although one might argue that merely being a Pop Artist was inherently comical, breaking taboos by mocking low brow taste and high brow art simultaneously. Aside from that, though, most East Coast American artists in the end seemed to be rather long on admirable technical cleverness but short on intentional humour, again, except for the fact that they were presenting images snatched from the world of advertising and the propaganda of consumerism, so the joke is rather on the viewer perhaps. Warhol and Rosenquist. Soap boxes, electric chairs, jet planes, lipstick tubes. Serious artists. But maybe productive of snickers rather than chuckles.


It was when he was (I think) temporarily working at Leo Castelli’s East 77th Street gallery (then managed by Ivan Karp, now the proprietor of the O.K. Harris Gallery on West Broadway in Soho.) that I became conscious of Al’s wonderful Hershey-bar-wrapper collages. I remember asking him at the gallery how he came to make these collages. How had he gotten to be so brilliant? What had given him the idea?

“Hunger,” he replied.

-Jackson Mac Low, Al Hansen as I remember him, AL HANSEN AN INTROSPECTIVE, p.190.


8.Credits and Out


All the participants in the production and design of this book deserve applause for their contributions, their collection, compilation and organization of all the ingredients, their memories, their tributes, the wealth of photos, no doubt the essays in German, and the photos of Al’s work - for which we can be especially grateful since Al himself was not much of a careerist. He rarely dealt formally with galleries' (or at least not till his European phase) and probably did not keep records of all those works he sold, traded, bartered or gave away - thousands, it has been said. So, many more have been done than we will ever get to see, most likely.


This book also gives us some words from Al Hansen, with some of which we shall now close. He had a way with them, too.







Tom Wasmuth
February 14, 2010

Link to the review of Hans E. Madsen's Under Bordet by Mr. Whiskets:

p.s To the last sentence of this review (buy online at Space Poetry) we add of course or buy online or in person at Boekie Woekie!

Some More Pages By Boekie Woekie And Friends Of A Very Big Book,

conceived, drawn, designed, printed, bound, published and signed by Henriëtte van Egten, Rúna Thorkelsdóttir, Jan Voss, Vossforlag c/o Boekie Woekie, Amsterdam 2002

Some More Pages

Recently, Boekie Woekie, books by artists, bookstore, gallery and meeting/visiting place par excellence, in the ribcage of Amsterdam, celebrated its 20th survival year as everything from the above, consistently true to its name and reputation. So lately there has been a revival of some sort for this venerable and influential (in some circles) particular place. Book revues have been requested from some of us faithful followers and patrons. No simple task I must say, since a great deal of the material, around 7000, titles by hundreds of artists and additional art paraphernalia is literally crammed in its 60 square meters. And of course even thou we have been given a choice to bring to light whatever we fancy, the remaining challenge was quite exorbitant. I personally chose for a particular set of books, 5 small tomes, 21x14,5 cm, hand made and bound with a mini bookshelf included, with almost 1000 beautifully colored, painted, decorated, written on, beer mats. Beautifully reproduced in original photocopy medium of Boekie Woekie’s own photocopy machine. Signed by its authors’ and in a limited edition of 13 copies. Illustrating poetically and with a lot of humor the fine art of creative convivial beer drinking, in this Mecca of eclectic artistic eccentricities.
                                                                                   -Phillipe McIntyre 28.7.2007

(no title,  copyright by MT 2007, 10 numbered copies, 10,5 x 15 cm)

no title copyright MT 2007

If I hadn't been present when this booklet of 12 pages was copied and stapled with the Boekie Woekie photocopying machine and the Boekie Woekie long arm stapler during shop hours this afternoon by the one who made the drawings which are reproduced in it earlier this afternoon in a coffee shop, and if I wasn't getting quite tired now, I would probably have chosen some other book to write about.

    MT stands for Maggie Tran. Boyfriend Graeme assisted her putting the pages together.
    The pages show a series of quickly made drawings of squiggly lines, getting more dense from page to page. On the first few pages one might think one recognizes the shape of a lying human figure and near its head an alarm clock. There is the suggestion that this figure is getting up. But since by now the lines are getting so many there is no figure
discernible anymore. The last page is almost entirely black.
    The idea of getting up into darkness makes in my tired state good sense. Instead of going to sleep I'll get up into the night. Thanks to this little book.

                                                  -Jan Voss 17.4.2007


reviewed by Michael Gibbs

 Words. Naked Woman Covered In Glitter

A book of 218 pages, each one containing a single line of words printed exactly in the middle of the white page, apparently describing the contents of a soft-core porn, or ‘lad’s’ mag. It must be a commercial, mainstream magazine since many of the lines start with the words “Advert featuring...”. The emphasis is on a verbal translation of the magazine’s imagery - the presence of words is indicated simply by “and words”. The cover, for instance, succinctly states “Naked woman covered in glitter, and words”. What these words might be is anyone’s guess. In fact, it doesn’t matter. Wasn’t it Hamlet who, replying to Polonius’s question as to what he read, said, “Words, words, words.” Words don’t even necessarily need an author. As Brion Gysin used to say, “Writers don’t own their words. Since when do words belong to anybody? ‘Your very own words,’ indeed! And who are you?” And who is the author of this book? No author’s name is given, nor is there any information as to place and date of publication. All there is is the relentless transcription of the minimal look of the pages in an anonymous magazine. Who is the “Man dancing in a pink tutu”, who are the “Injured people being rescued”? Men, it seems, play traditional male roles (as fighter, car driver), while women seem to be subjected to the usual condition of (half-)nakedness and adornment.

It is often said that we are living in a visual culture, that we have moved beyond the Gutenberg galaxy of printed text. ‘Words.’ is an attempt to redress the balance, to return to the pleasure of the text and to the time-honoured tradition of exegesis (the origin of modern literary criticism). But so implacable is ‘Words.’ that any commentary seems pointless - one can read into it or out of it as much as one wants, but to no avail. There are no revelations in store. One wouldn’t be any the wiser even if one were to discover the book’s origin - the magazine on which it might be based could be any one of thousands, or millions. In its total solipsism, this book is perfectly silent and non-committal. All we are left with is a stream of floating signifiers in perpetual motion - atoms of energy half-coalescing into second-hand intimations of visuality.

Link to the review of Dieter Roth's Radio Sonata by Stefan Ripplinger (in German)

Donald Gardner, The Glittering Sea, Hearing Eye, Torriano Meeting House, Poetry Pamphlet Series Number 42, cover image: Martin Parker, London 2006.

Gardner The Glittering Sea

       Donald Gardner’s short book of poems (34 pages) nearly half of which were previously published in magazines or anthologies, comes with it’s own review on the back cover, to wit:


          Dark and light alternate in these poems. 

          Irony and farce one moment are

          replaced the next by a surprising lyricism.

          Amsterdam, New York, London – actually

          observed scenes contrast with others that

          exist almost solely in the poet’s mind. The

          big issues of politics shift to the intimate

          and personal and back again by a

          Moebius loop of language.  Poems such

          As ‘Central Park Vistas’ betray in comic

          fashion Donald Gardner’s struggle to

          become a better poet, if not a

          better person. 


     All well and good, as these words do correctly identify many of the poetic parameters played with within the covers of this pamphlet, however it probably takes a review from an external source to proclaim this an amazing book.

     In an era where the word “poetry” has become a warning sign to indicate “dissociated thoughts perplexingly organized into what unwary readers may take to be the sign of a higher intelligence too brilliant to decipher by an ordinary mind (use off-ramp to avoid uncontrollable yawing),”Gardener consistently, nay infallibly, delivers actual poems  that yield sense and understandings to the ordinary Joe Blow mortal, without sacrificing love of language and how it can be bent, stretched and moulded, even still including canny literary and modern art references up till and including Ezra Poundish lapses into bravura Italiano.  But I digress.

     Five out of the first six poems in this collection grease the reader’s wheels with humour, making entrance into this short volume all downhill -nearly painless in fact, considering it’s (holding the nose) Poetry, the lad’s about.  We are led like the protagonist cycling down an Amsterdam street after closing time in “Bicycle on Ice” down a slippery slope into a madcap slapstick event that suddenly surrounds us, likewise in “Dancing with an Octopus”  where we are dragged all unawares into a humorous but then suddenly disturbing undersea fantasy worthy of Lewis Carroll.  Gardener has a penchant for skating down into the centre of disaster and then safely out again, or rather finding potential disasters and showing that they may be encountered, entered and ultimately evaded as consolation for his hard-bitten recognition that sometimes, with no hope of escape, we are caught “Like little puppets in death’s ham fist”.

     Sometimes the disasters, on the other hand, are merely interior ones, as in “Central Park Vistas,” which seems at first reading of this book to be at the core of it all, the flagship of this flotilla of poems.  Not necessarily so.  The real core may well be hinted at in the title.  Not wanting to “reveal the ending”, I shall refrain from saying any more than that there are weightier matters at another core in this book which only the readers who pay the price of admission may discover.

     But again the poem “Central Park Vistas” – the seventh of thirteen poems and thus the one in the middle – gives a loner’s view of a touristic visit to New York’s Central Park in February.  The lone observer, “alienated from himself and his surroundings, maybe even fallen through a glitch in history” detaches from desperate (or graceful) humanity’s pitiful (or stately) park performance with a critical eye which  is eventually turned upon himself, a la Herman Hesse’s “Steppenwolf im Tiergarten”, sitting there meaninglessly, “…the why on the wall, hunched like a question mark…running from my responsibilities…far from home…pursuing a chimera…”  Again he leads us down the rabbit’s hole and before we know it we are falling again, this time into The Pit, containing that nest of snakes, the  comically ironic self doubt reflex (that’s the question – is this a self-doubt reflex or a sudden realization of what a puny little idiot he really is, crucial to know this since we all do it) only to rebound (Bravo, Donald!) redemptively back up to OK and more. Back to euphoria thanks to, as it happens, a dog walker and his charges.

     As I said before there are weightier matters at what I take to be the real core of this book after which the author returns to England, to his Mother’s garden and down, down into to the London Underground for another ride on the emotional roller coaster.

     And all with many a chuckle to be had by his readership. ( Not that Herman Hesse ever put his Steppenwolf into a Tiergarten.) 

                                                   -Tom Wasmuth 7.3.2007


Francis Van Maele, A paper cup diary, Seoul summer 2005, Red Fox Press, Cashel-Foxford, Co. Mayo-Ireland, 30 copies, 2005.

Maele A Paper Cup Diary   Maele A Paper Cup Diary

This is a rather small book of brief diary entries and photos of Korean coffee and soup cups apparently collected during a stay in a Korean city in 2005.  A lone observer chronicles the atmosphere of  the city - stray details-“people going to work…outside demonstrations against capitalismus…the sound of tires on the wet street.”  These cityscape details are sometimes combined with obliquely referenced feelings of anticipation, melancholic yearning, longing-to-meet, fear-of-losing a certain woman mentioned only as “she” or “her”, and the memories of these feelings are associated with the photo documentation of the coffee cups which gives an almost cinematic flavour of the Nouvelle Vague variety, putting us in mind of Goddard’s juxtaposition of love stories with the sights sounds and texts of the City or even the painful romance of East–Meets-West in Resnais’  “Hiroshima Mon Amour’’.

     This unpretentious and poetical little book, in which the author has solved the problem of what to do with those picturesque fragments collected from exotic destinations, those details of everyday life in a foreign world that generally rest unprocessed and gathering dust long after the bags have been unpacked, could indeed bear the seeds of a movie, and this book would also make the perfect gift for a lover or prospective lover or anyone with which one had shared anxious moments and affections.

                                                   -Tom Wasmuth 4.3.07