Rebels: Painters and Poets of the 1950s

National Portrait Gallery

Washington D.C.

February 24 - June 2, 1996

This Exhibition Has Closed

The Cosmic Baseball Association in its continuing exploration of the Beat Generation and related matters is providing this plate on the World Wide Web to help disseminate information about the current exhibition of poets and painters currently running in Washington, D.C.

The National Portrait Gallery

8th & F Streets, N.W.
Washington D.C.
Hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily.
Admission is free.

Directions to the National Portrait Gallery

Public Transportation: Use Washington D.C.'s Metro subway. The National Portrait Gallery is located at the Gallery Place/Chinatown stop on the Metro's RED LINE which is accessible from Union Station (Amtrak) and by transfer from National Airport (DCA). Go to the Gallery Place/Chinatown Metro station on the RED LINE. Average non-rush hour Metro fares are in the $1.50 to $2.00 range..

By Car: The Gallery is located downtown just off the mall and there are a variety of parking garages in the area. Parking fees average $7-$12.

There is a small cafeteria in the Gallery (on the first floor).
Sandwiches, salads and beverages are available.
Average cafeteria meal cost is $3-$5.

For additional info about the National Portrait Gallery call: 202.357.2700

The Exhibition

It really is a two part exhibit. In one set of rooms the "Poets" are exhibited in the form of paintings, drawings, photographs, audio samples of authors reading, manuscripts, journals, and published books. The "Poets" are divided into four sub-groups:

The Beat Generation writers section includes Kerouac, Ginsberg, Burroughs, Corso, and DiPrima. There is a very nice photograph of DiPrima sitting on a piano at the Gaslight Cafe in New York in the midst of a genuine beat poetry reading. Also in this section is a selection from a Ginsberg writing journal and Kerouac's drawing of a proposed cover for On the Road. Familiar photographs such as the one with Kerouac and his mom in Hyannis, Massachusetts taken by Kerouac biographer Ann Charters, are on display.

The San Francisco Renaissance writers section includes paintings and photographs of Robert Duncan, Brother Antoninus (William Everson), Lawrence Ferlinghetti, Kenneth Rexroth, Bob Kaufman, Philip Lamantia, Michael McClure, Gary Snyder, and Phillip Whalen. There is a 1955 drawing of Whalen by Jack Kerouac called Buddha Red Ears that is amusing and makes us thankful, perhaps, that Jack concentrated on writing and not drawing.

The Black Mountain Poets section includes Robert Creeley, Charles Olson, John Wieners, and Jonathsn Williams. Silkscreens, a diagram of Black Mountain by Olson, samples of first edition books are on display.

The New York School of writers covers John Ashbery, Edwin Denby, Kenward Elmslie, Barbara Guest, Amiri Baraka (LeRoi Jones), Kenneth Koch, Frank O'Hara, and James Schuyler. In discussing this group of writers, Steven Watson, the exhibition's Guest Curator writes "Just as the Beat Generation's social constellation was rooted in Columbia University, the New York School's roots are in Harvard...After graduating, they immigrated to New York, where their common haunts included art museums, the ballet, and summer cocktail parties on eastern Long Island."

The "Painters" section of the exhibition is devoted to painters and critics associated with the "Abstract Expressionist" movement. Portraits of over 20 painters are on display including several of Jackson Pollock, Barnett Newman, Willem de Kooning, and Mark Rothko. There are also portraits of the art critics Clement Greenberg, Thomas Hess and Harold Rosenberg. The famous photograph of painters entitled "The Irascibles" by Nina Leen, orginally published in Life magazine (January 18, 1951) is also on display.

Other Related Events at the Gallery

All events are FREE unless otherwise indicated.
All Films are projected in the Gallery's Theater.
More Information: call 202.357.2700

April 1 & 30: Film- Painters Painting. 12:30pm, 116 minutes.
Artists discussing art: de Kooning, Pollock, Motherwell

April 2: Film- Arshile Gorky. 12:30pm, 29 minutes.
Biographical treatment of the painter.

April 8: Film- Robert Motherwell and the New York School: Storming the Citadel 12:30pm, 56 minutes
History of the Abstract Expressionist painting movement, documenting the geographical shift from Paris to New York as the center of the art world in the 1950s.

April 9: Film- Jackson Pollock. 12:30pm, 52 minutes.
Biography of the painter, the so-called "James Dean" of the art world.

April 16: Film- De Kooning on de Kooning 12:30pm, 58 minutes.
Biography of Willem de Kooning, one of the leaders of the Abstract Expressionist movement.

April 22: Film- E de K: A Portrait 12:30pm, 28 minutes.
Painter Elaine de Kooning discusses her work and influences.

April 23: Film- Pull My Daisy 12:30pm, 28 minutes
A film by and about the personalities associated with the Beat Generation. Kerouac, Ginsberg, Corso, and others star in this cinematic classic.

April 25: Lunchtime Lecture and Book Signing, 12 Noon.
A walking tour of the "Poets" section with exhibition co-curator Steven Watson. Watson will also sign copies of his book, The Birth of the Beat Generation.

April 27: Symposium and Poetry Meeting. Fees and Registration Required.
An all-day and evening event including readings and discussions by poets featured in the exhibition. Advance publicity for this event states that Ginsberg, Creeley, DiPrima, Ferlinghetti, and other poets will be present. The cost for the full day/evening event is $30.

Other Information

The "catalog" of the exhibit consists of a pamphlet that includes some brief commentary by the curators of the exhibit. This pamphlet also contains a "Checklist of the Exhibition" detailing by artist the works on display. This pamhlet is free.

The Bookstore/Giftshop has several related books, CDs, postcards and other items for sale.


Lots of paintings and photographs crowded into a relatively small space. Too small, perhaps, because several of the works have been mounted high, too high, on the walls. My cooments here concentrate on the Beat writers section of the "Poets" exhibit. The quality of the accompanying explanatory text are generally useful, informative and limited. The audio selections are also a nice touch since much of the work of the represented writers has a lot to do with language and the sound of language and voice and breath.. The Burroughs selection is especially nice because his deep, well-modulated, midwestern tone fits the words so well. Kerouac's New England inflections are always a joy. Curiously, Neal Cassady's image is missing, and naturally, by exclusion, the show perpetuates the myth that women were less than minor, let's say invisible, characters in the Beat and other movements of the period. Besides a photograph and a painting of Diane DiPirma and her Memoirs of a Beatnik book there isn't much recognition of the influence women had on the culture or the men of the Beat generation. Since this is an exhibition about the personalities and not their work, it might have been an opportunity to display the tremendous influence women had on these writers. Well, that's another topic for another time. It's hard to know precisely what a "portrait" exhibit conveys beyond a look and feel for the personalites. But if you are looking for a taste of the look and feel of a bygone generation of creative rogues, then this exhibit succeeds. I did note that the photographs used on the exhibition pamplet to depict the "Poets" (Larry Keenan's 1965 "Last Gathering of the Beat Generation Poets and Artists") and the "Painters" (Nina Leen's 1950 "The Irascibles") suggest that the artistic dress codes eased up considerably as the fifties became the sixties. The painters are all wearing jackets and ties; fifteen years later, the poets and artists are dressed more casually. Of course, the fact that these "rebels" are now hanging out to dry on the walls of Smithson's home, suggests that it's time for something new again. But it's not a fashion change we need...

One final note: the tuna fish sandwich on pumpernickel from the cafeteria was pretty good, maybe a little less mayonnaise wouldn't hurt, but overall, not a bad meal.

Catch you later,
Dina Damico & Andrew Lampert
March 12, 1996.
for the Cosmic Baseball Association

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Rebels: Painters and Poets of the 1950s
Published: March 12, 1996
Updated: June 2, 1996
Copyright © 1996 by the Cosmic Baseball Association