BUSINESS AND ART SYNERGY. Jack Kerouac. Beat Painting


Anna Defrancesco

The MA*GA Museum in Gallarate is hosting a major exhibition of paintings and drawings by Jack Kerouac, one of the literary icons of the 20th century, from 3 December 2017 to 22 April 2018.

With eighty paintings and drawings, the exhibition reveals a side of the father of the Beat Generation that has never been really explored before.

Added interest and depth are created by photographs by Robert Frank and Ettore Sottsass, historical documents, a project by Peter Greenaway, and an interview with Arnaldo Pomodoro published in the catalogue that recalls his experiences at Stanford University, California, in 1966.

I only paint beautiful things. I use house paint mixed with glue, I use brush and fingertips. In a few years I can be topflight painter if I want. Maybe then I can sell paintings and buy a piano and compose music too – for life is a bore.


Jack Kerouac, 10 October 1956, Mexico City

Curated by Sandrina Bandera, Alessandro Castiglioni, and Emma Zanella, the exhibition has been organised by the MA*GA Museum and the city of the Gallarate with support from Ricola, the Heritage Art Foundation, and Fondazione Cariplo, as well as in collaboration with Rivellino LDV in the Swiss town of Locarno.

Entitled Kerouac. Beat Painting, the exhibition features eighty paintings and drawings, most of which have never before been displayed in Italy, which shed a completely new light on the artistic activities of the father of the Beat Generation. A special focus is given to analysing his labyrinthic creative process and his relationships with traditional American visual culture, and with other Beat movement authors from Allen Ginsberg to William Burroughs, as well as the masters of Art Informel and the New York School with whom Kerouac started hanging out in the latter half of the 1950s.

The strength of these works lies above all in the comprehensive identity that Kerouac managed to squeeze into life, literary works, and every other creative form of expression, such as music, singing, poetry, and film.

This is a unique opportunity to admire Kerouac’s works which until now had only been exhibited in a handful of select museums, such as the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and the ZKM in Karlsruhe. For decades the works had remained in Kerouac’s hometown of Lowell, Massachusetts, as they had been inherited by Kerouac’s brother-in-law John Sampas, before being passed on to a series of private collectors under the aegis of Rivellino LDV in the Swiss town of Locarno.

Visitors are taken on a journey through different nuclei that develop reflections interweaving Kerouac’s life with his poetics using everything from portraits of famous figures, such as Joan Crawford, Truman Capote, Dody Muller or Cardinal Montini, to references to the beat culture from Robert Frank to William S. Burroughs.

The exhibition also explores Kerouac’s relationship with Italy through a selection of photographs taken by Robert Frank and by Ettore Sottsass of his wife Fernanda Pivano, Allen Ginsberg and Kerouac, and is lent even greater depth by a new project about Kerouac by Peter Greenaway.

The catalog of the exhibitions Kerouac. Beat Painting opens with an exceptional tribute to Jack Kerouac: a previously unpublished work by Peter Greenaway, dedicated to the book On The Road. Through a series of sketches, storyboards and writings, the British artist and director is working on a new project: building a traveling video projection featuring the On the Road car. The latter becomes a set and projection site for a video that reinterprets Kerouac’s journey, moving on a sort of imaginary circuit between the places in the wonderful story.

The cultural horizons of the event are broadened by a special video section featuring the screening of an interview of Jack Kerouac by Fernanda Pivano, courtesy of Rai Teche, and Pull My Daisy, the short film (30 minutes), adapted by Kerouac and directed by Robert Frank and Alfred Leslie, that featured some of the leading lights from the Beat Generation, such as Allen Ginsberg and Gregory Corso.

Considered one of the founders of the Beat Generation, Jack Kerouac represented the literary and artistic movement that began to shake up and scandalise the values of American society towards the end of the 1940s and then moved on to Europe, where his works spread quickly and were translated almost immediately. For the middle classes that had created solid foundations for post-war renewal, Kerouac was a progenitor of cultural and sexual liberation and a new lifestyle model that would eventually result in a revolution by the younger generation in the 1960s.

Rejecting the technological ideals of the post-war period, the Beat movement and the group of Kerouac, Ginsberg, Owen, and Ferlinghetti championed new, almost tribal, and spontaneous ethics which were later incorporated into the hippie movement as people opposed the war in Vietnam and enjoyed ‘Three Days of Peace & Music’ at Woodstock.

In addition to being an important exhibition, Kerouac. Beat Painting also introduces a particularly significant technical publication produced by Skira, which takes a comprehensive look at Kerouac’s paintings.

The book opens with an essay by Sandrina Bandera about the sources and relationships with the history of Europe in the artist’s growth and learning. The second part of the catalogue is dedicated to the importance of the religious aspect ranging from Catholic traditions to the Buddhist culture in Kerouac’s work, which is primarily examined by a critical contribution by Stefania Benini.

These are followed by several essays about the different aspects of the Beat culture: Franco Buffoni studies the history and relationships with Italian culture and contemporary trends, Virginia Hill takes a closer look at the connections with 1960s fashion, and Enrico Camporesi discusses cinema and sound.

The fourth section, which is introduced by Francesco Tedeschi, deals in greater depth with the connections between Kerouac and the artistic culture in New York between the late 1950s and the early 1960s: from abstract expressionism to jazz.

The book wraps up with an account about the Beat Generation from Arnaldo Pomodoro, which was recorded by Ada Masoero, and a biography of Jack Kerouac by Stefania Benini from Saint Joseph’s University, Philadelphia, that explores the parallels between the events in Kerouac’s life and the major historical and cultural events that touched and rocked America and Europe.


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The magazine JŪRA has been published since 1935.
International business magazine JŪRA MOPE SEA has been
published since 1999.

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