Bruce Conner, PORTRAIT OF ALLEN GINSBERG, 1960


NARRATOR: This small assemblage—made of nylon stockings, a tin can, candle wax, and other unorthodox materials—is a portrait of the Beat poet Allen Ginsberg. Made by artist Bruce Conner in 1960, the work deliberately flouts convention with its unheroic scale and use of junk materials. Here, Conner rejects the traditional notions of art as representational, refined, and permanent, and captures the questioning, anti-establishment spirit of Ginsberg and the 1960s.

Take a moment to listen to this excerpt of Ginsberg reading from Howl, his famous 1956 poem, which begins, “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness.”

Allen Ginsberg: who created great suicidal dramas on the apartment cliff-banks of the Hudson under the wartime blue floodlight of the moon & their heads shall be crowned with laurel in oblivion,

who ate the lamb stew of the imagination or digested the crab at the muddy bottom of the rivers of Bowery,

who wept at the romance of the streets with their pushcarts full of onions and bad music,

who sat in boxes breathing in the darkness under the bridge, and rose up to build harpsichords in their lofts. . .

Bruce Conner (1933–2008), _PORTRAIT OF ALLEN GINSBERG_, 1960. Wood, fabric, wax, metal can, glass, feathers, metal, string and spray paint, 19 15/16 × 11 5/16 × 21 3/8 in. (50.6 × 28.7 × 54.3 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; Purchase, with funds from the Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Committee 96.48 © artist or artist’s estate