Brion Gysin and Ian Sommerville, Dreammachine, 1962. Installation View, The New Museum. All images via Artnet
Currently on view at the New Museum is “Brion Gysin: Dream Machine,” the first comprehensive American exhibition to feature the interdisciplinary British artist, writer, and collaborator. Often overlooked, both popularly and commercially, Gysin (1916-1986) has frequently been characterized as a foil of failure within the historical narrative of Beat-Era success stories. He is generally credited as the inventor of the “cut-up” method, a medium which culminated in his co-authorship of the experimental collage-manifesto The Third Mind with William S. Burroughs.
The exhibition, which includes over 300 objects, draws its title from the spinning, cylindrical sculpture created by Gysin’s friend and “systems advisor” Ian Sommerville in 1962. Dreammachine’s incised metallic exterior rotates around a single light source, projecting undulating, psychedelic, flickering imagery, enshrouding viewers in a shared experience of the artist’s nearly-forgotten dream-making.
The New Museum leaves the nature of Gysin’s dream to the discretion of the viewer, allowing it to be subjectively characterized as either an outmoded, hackneyed, acid-tinged reflection of an overrated era of popular culture, or a probing, timeless inquiry into selfhood, creativity, and the artistic process. Mixed-media works like I Am That I Am seem to point to the latter; to a weighted and ambiguous vision of the artist’s reflection in the mirror of his culture and social milieu. The show succeeds in revealing Gysin’s complex, dynamic, and interdisciplinary artistic character. It offers a refreshed perspective on critical type-casting, which simultaneously explores the artist’s historical personage, critical reception, and diverse body of material work.
Gysin was born in Taplow, UK, in 1916. According to the exhibition’s curator Laura Hoptman, Dream Machine “…represents an approach to the notion of the new that is somewhat different from the Museum’s standard—one that emphasizes relevance and fresh information over chronology, and brings to the fore a relatively neglected yet very influential innovator who continues to have a strong impact on artists working today.” Following its run at the New Museum, the exhibition will travel to the Institut d’art Contemporain Villeurbanne/Rhône-Alpes, where it will remain on view through November 28, 2010.