The Ransom Center will be closed on Thanksgiving Day. Please be aware that the Ransom Center Galleries are open on this Friday, November 29, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and from noon to 5 p.m. on Saturday, November 30, and Sunday, December 1.
Docent-led gallery tours occur on Tuesdays at noon, Thursdays at 6 p.m., and Saturdays and Sundays at 2 p.m. (There will be no public tour on Thursday, November 28.) The public tours meet in the lobby, and no reservations are required.
Admission is free. Your donation supports the Ransom Center’s exhibitions and public programs. Parking information and a map are available online.
The Ransom Center’s Reading and Viewing Rooms and administrative office are closed on Thursday, November 28, and reopen on Monday, December 2.
Image: John Audubon’s illustration of a wild turkey from “Birds of America.” 1827.
On December 31, 1956, writer and political activist Nancy Cunard visited the Keats-Shelley House in Rome. She went there to contribute an account of one of her earliest, most intimate experiences as a young writer and to memorialize her connection with one of the most important figures of the Romantic period, John Keats. Although Keats had been dead for many years before Cunard was born, she vividly remembered meeting him—in a dream.
Cunard writes that the dream occurred when she was 15 years old, during “a summer of adolescence” when she was “troubled by her own lines and words.” She had read nearly everything Keats had written, “knew much of him by heart,” and believed herself “in love with him.” In the dream, the likeness of Keats told Cunard that she “should write, that [she] should be a poet.” Cunard was moved by the dream and continued to feel connected to Keats throughout her life. She signed off the piece she prepared for the Keats-Shelley House by writing, “thus, to the treasure of this house, I offer my small leaf… with love, and with a tear.”
Cunard’s dramatic prose reflects her own dynamic life and personality. The British writer and political activist was the daughter of a baronet. She attended private schools in London, Germany, and Paris, where she met the friends who would later call themselves the “Corrupt Coterie.” Despite her privileged upbringing, Cunard was quick to jump into the fray of political activism and regularly spoke out against fascism and racism.
The Ransom Center recently acquired several items relating to Cunard’s pilgrimage to the Keats-Shelley House in Rome, including Cunard’s personal copy of Neville Rogers’s book Keats, Shelley & Rome: An Illustrated Miscellany. Other related materials were laid in the pages of the book, including a postcard sent to Cunard by Vera Cacciatore—then curator of the Keats-Shelley House and a friend of Cunard—and a letter sent by Cacciatore, thanking Cunard for a recent review on Byron and imploring her to visit again.
One highlight of this acquisition is the original typescript Cunard presented to the Keats-Shelley House, her four-page account of her childhood dream of Keats. These materials join the Ransom Center’s extensive Cunard collection, the bulk of which were acquired between 1969 and 1977. The collection includes manuscripts of her works, personal papers, and correspondence, as well as poems and essays by many of her friends and associates.
The Center also recently acquired Cunard’s library.
In 1975, photographer Ted Spagna (1943–1989) began his career-defining project that would revolutionize the artistic interpretation and even scientific understanding of sleep. Using a time-lapse camera, Spagna photographed a variety of sleeping subjects for an entire night. The results, now known as “sleep portraiture,” provided a unique bird’s eye perspective of his subjects’ movements, patterns, and interactions. Today, a collection of Spagna’s photographs and papers resides at the Ransom Center.
In 2009, Ron Eldridge and Delia Bonfilio, nephew and goddaughter of Spagna, formed the Ted Spagna Project. Aspiring to “awaken his work and carry it on,” Eldridge and Bonfilio launched a variety of programs highlighting Spagna and his work, including the recently published collection of his photographs titled SLEEP.
Rizzoli Publishing describes SLEEP as “an intimate, voyeuristic exploration into the private landscape of the unconscious from the Muybridge of sleep.” The full-color coffee-table book features Spagna’s photographs of children, adults, couples, and families exposed in the private act of sleeping. With text by psychiatrist Allan Hobson and additional photographs by Mary Ellen Mark, SLEEP has revived Spagna’s project alongside current information and innovation.
The assassination of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963 in Dallas, Texas shook America’s understanding of trust, security, and rational behavior. In the five decades following, a multitude of historians and writers have been moved to study the event, many with particular interest in the assassin himself, Lee Harvey Oswald.
In 1995, Norman Mailer released Oswald’s Tale: An American Mystery, an 828-page biography of Lee Harvey Oswald. Written three decades after the assassination of President Kennedy, Mailer’s account of the man and the events offers a unique, in-depth study of Oswald’s relationships and character with specific focus on his time in the Soviet Union.
Born in New Orleans in 1939, Oswald spent his childhood in Dallas, Fort Worth, and New York City before joining the United States Marine Corps at 17. Throughout his life, Oswald was reprimanded for temperamental and reckless behavior, traits that repeatedly manifested themselves in spontaneous and rash decisions. Three years after enlisting, Oswald abandoned the Marine Corps and—having developed an increasing interest in Socialism—moved to the Soviet Union, where he expressed his desire to renounce his United States citizenship. There he met Marina Prusakova. They married within six weeks of meeting and had their first child within a year. After three years in the Soviet Union, Oswald returned to the United States.
Mailer’s archive, which resides at the Ransom Center, contains the author’s preliminary research for Oswald’s Tale—his 28th book—as well as drafts of the manuscript throughout the publishing process. Mailer’s notes include handwritten annotations, Russian vocabulary flashcards, and interview transcripts with a variety of Oswald’s acquaintances, including Marina Pursakova herself.
One early note, scrawled sometime between 1992 and 1993, reads, “It will be noted that this book is called a mystery… Let me propose that a mystery… creates a form of its own between fiction and non-fiction.” He asserts that “the author did his best to make up no dialogue,” and to “attribute no private motives to his real characters.” “Still,” he writes, “it is a most peculiar form of non-fiction since it requests the reader’s collaboration.”
Oswald’s Tale provides the reader with an in-depth perspective of the events, motivations, and emotions that ultimately drove Oswald to murder. The author undoubtedly makes his own speculations about the subject’s character, but his depiction of the facts encourages the reader to develop their own understanding of Oswald. Thus, Mailer’s Oswald’s Tale—and the collection of associated interviews, notes, and manuscripts—exists as an interactive reflection on the unforgettable tragedy of November 22, 1963.
Please click the thumbnails to view larger images.
Steven Hoelscher, editor of Reading Magnum: A Visual Archive of the Modern World, will discuss the book at The Contemporary Austin tonight in an event hosted by Austin Center for Photography, University of Texas Press, and The Contemporary.
The arrival in December 2009 of some 200,000 press prints from Magnum Photos’s New York bureau represented a remarkable opportunity for scholarship—and a substantial challenge. Although Magnum’s photographers had received considerable individual attention and lavish coffee table books have reproduced their iconic images, no scholarly work to date had assessed the photo agency’s visual archive. Important retrospectives have been published, but their textual brevity and the fact that the photo agency itself produced them suggested the opportunity for a critical, independent study.
Thus, the time seemed ripe to dig into the collection, to see what’s there, and to consider how the photographs fit into a larger cultural history. Here, of course, is where the challenge arises. How to approach the photo collection? What sort of organizational frameworks would seem to be most appropriate? What should the resulting publication look like? I spent roughly six months combing through the 1,300 archival boxes to find answers to these questions.
During this preliminary research, several things occurred to me. First, while nearly limitless possibilities of scholarly frameworks existed, a half dozen themes kept emerging as I studied the contents of the archival boxes. War and conflict, of course, was important, but so too was portraiture and geography. What’s more, cultural life, social relations, and globalization stood out as recurring themes.
Second, it became immediately evident that three years would not be nearly long enough for me alone to take on such a project, and it was always my intention for the volume to be published in conjunction with the current exhibition Radical Transformation: Magnum Photos into the Digital Age, which was curated by Jessica S. McDonald and Roy Flukinger. The book would necessarily be one of collaboration. Here, I was fortunate to be joined by seven distinguished scholars for this project. They are trained in a range of academic fields—art history, journalism, literature, cultural history, geography, cultural studies, communications, and visual studies—for the simple reason that no one perspective can adequately encompass the Magnum archive’s reaches. Each contributor spent considerable time with the collection at the Ransom Center, and each brings his or her unique point of view to the collection’s materials.
What each chapter shares is a concern for historical and cultural context that is so often missing when photographs are disconnected from their original settings.
Finally, I wanted the book to reflect the dual nature of photographs: that they were both physical objects and the bearers of compelling imagery. With this in mind, two sets of works—bookends, if you will—surround each chapter. I included a set of “Notes form the Archive,” which emphasizes the materiality of the photograph and traces its trajectory, from annotated press prints to distribution to eventual publication. A “Portfolio” then follows each chapter, illustrating something of the depth and range of the images carried by a photograph.
Putting this book together has been a real labor of intellectual love. The deeper I dug into the Magnum Photos collection, the more impressed I was by the depth, range, and artistry of the contents. It’s my hope that Reading Magnum reflects something of the collection’s power.
2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War, a watershed event that claimed millions of lives and changed the course of the twentieth century. The Ransom Center’s exhibit The World at War, 1914–1918 will illuminate the lived experience of the world’s first global war, and will be supplemented with a trip led by exhibition curators and historians to its key monuments and battlefields throughout Great Britain, France, and Belgium, from June 14 through June 23, 2014. The trip is organized by the Texas Exes Flying Longhorns. Information regarding the trip can be found on the Texas Exes alumni travel website.
Sites in London include the Imperial War Museum, Westminster Abbey, the Douglas Haig Memorial, 10 Downing Street, and the Houses of Parliament. Participants will also travel to Oxford to meet with scholar Dr. Jon Stallworthy, the leading scholar on the works of English soldier-poet Wilfred Owen. The Ransom Center holds a collection of Owen’s letters. While in London, participants will stay in the Grosvenor House, a historic 5-star hotel that is frequented by celebrities and royalty.
From London, the group will visit towns such as Ypres, Somme, Verdun, and Rheims, home to key battlegrounds and memorials along the Western Front. The town of Ypres was the site of three major battles, as well as the first documented use of poison gas. Visitors can still view Ypres’ trenches, underground bunkers, and even a church where Adolf Hitler was treated after being wounded. Trip participants will also visit La Maison Forestière in Ors, a memorial to Wilfred Owen, and the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme. France is also famed for its champagnes, and participants will enjoy a tasting, featuring classics like Veuve Cliquot and Tattinger.
The trip ends in Paris, home to attractions like the Louvre, the Eiffel Tower, and Notre-Dame. Participants will stay in the Intercontinental LeGrand Hotel, a luxury hotel with views of the Paris Opera House. There is an optional two-day extension of the trip here, which includes a Seine River cruise and a show at the Moulin Rouge.
Nobel Laureate Doris Lessing died on Sunday at the age of 94. She was born in what is now Iran, grew up on a farm in Zimbabwe, lived briefly in a boarding house in South Africa, and settled as an adult in London. She was deeply influenced by the racial and social injustices she witnessed, and her books reflect a lifetime of experience observing racism, colonialism, communism, and terrorism. She wrote frankly about relationships between women and men and is heralded as an early feminist writer, though she never embraced that distinction. She was an avid reader and was largely self-educated through books, as her formal education ended when she was just 15 years old. Yet she remained unsentimental about books. In one letter in her archive, which resides at the Ransom Center, Lessing noted, “[I] wish that people would just read books and get all the sustenance from them they can—and then throw them away and go on to the next useful sustaining book.”
Early in her career, Lessing applied this same attitude toward her manuscripts. As a young writer in England, she had little space and less money. She moved frequently and saw little value in her cumbersome stacks of manuscripts and papers, so she discarded them. As a result, manuscripts of many of her most notable books, including The Golden Notebook, have been lost.
Fortunately, Lessing later changed her ways. The drafts and working papers of more than 50 of her novels, plays, stories, and other works are available for research at the Ransom Center, where they have resided since 1999. The 45-box collection includes Lessing’s Canopus in Argos series, her two autobiographies, and novels such as The Good Terrorist and Mara and Dann. Although few of Lessing’s early works appear in the archive, another Ransom Center collection offers a rare glimpse of Doris Lessing from this period.
American author Clancy Sigal lived with Lessing in London in the late 1950s. In many ways, they were kindred spirits. The two writers were passionate about many of the same social concerns. In the photograph above, the two can be seen, according to Sigal, “in a bus, in the mud, on our way to cut through the barbed wire of a nuclear air base.” Their relationship may have been intellectually deep, but it was emotionally fraught and stormy. It also provided great fodder for literature. It’s no secret that Lessing modeled the infamous Saul Green of The Golden Notebook on Sigal. Once at a party, Lessing even boasted to the guests, “I invented Clancy.” Sigal was less than thrilled to appear in Lessing’s novel, a book that is widely hailed as a cornerstone of feminist literature. Yet he, too, looked to their relationship for inspiration, even decades after it had ended. Rose O’Malley from Sigal’s 1992 novel Secret Defector, is just one of many characters he created who bear a striking resemblance to Lessing.
The journals in Clancy Sigal’s archive detail the difficulties of their relationship, and traces of their time together appear throughout his writings. His archive includes letters from Lessing, some dated long after their relationship had ended, showing that they remained friends for decades. In one such letter, written in November 2001, not long after the September 11th attacks, Lessing harkened back to their earlier years of social activism, “Do you think the world is even madder now than [w]hen we knew it was?” she asked. “God, what a world.”
Image: Clancy Sigal and Doris Lessing, ca. late 1950s.
In the above video, Eli Reed, Magum photographer and a clinical professor of journalism at The University of Texas at Austin, discusses his career and working methods.
In 2001, Reed traced the path of some of the more than 20,000 “Lost Boys,” as aid workers have called them, some as young as five years old, forced to flee after their families were massacred or enslaved during the Second Sudanese Civil War. Wandering the equatorial wilderness between Sudan and Ethiopia for years on foot, those who survived starvation and disease eventually reached a refugee camp in Kakuma, Kenya, where over 3,000 of them awaited resettlement through a United Nations partnership with the U.S. State Department. Reed’s powerful series documents their journey as they leave the camp and adjust to life in the United States, acclimating to a starkly different culture and a new world of formidable challenges.
Ed Ruscha’s Twentysix Gasoline Stations, a thin paperback that resembles an industrial manual of the 1960s, is often considered to be the first modern artist’s book. The book is exactly what the title describes: 26 images of gasoline stations along Route 66 between Los Angeles and Oklahoma City.
Born in Omaha, Nebraska, and raised in Oklahoma City, Ruscha was living and working in Los Angeles in the 1960s and frequently traveled the route between the two cities to visit his family.
“I just had a personal connection to that span of mileage between Oklahoma and California,” Ruscha told NPR earlier this year on the 50th anniversary of the book. “It just, it kind of spoke to me.”
In an interview with Avalanche magazine in 1973 he said, “I’d always wanted to make a book of some kind. When I was in Oklahoma I got a brainstorm in the middle of the night to do this little book called Twentysix Gasoline Stations. I knew the title. I knew it would be photographs of twenty-six gasoline stations.”
So, Ruscha documented gas stations along that route in black-and-white photographs and labeled them with their locations, from “Texaco, Sunset Strip, Los Angeles” to “‘Flying A, Kingman, Arizona” to the final image “Fina, Groom, Texas.”
Ruscha published the book at age 26 in a run of 400 numbered copies in April 1963. Though it was the same year as Ruscha’s first solo exhibition at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles, the book didn’t initially receive a warm reception. In a 1963 letter, the Library of Congress declined to add a copy to their collection, noting the book’s “unorthodox form and supposed lack of information.”
The book gradually acquired cult status in the 1960s, and a second edition was published in 1967 and a third in 1969. Surviving first editions of the book are rare.
Ruscha’s archive, which was recently acquired by the Ransom Center, includes snapshots of the gas stations, Ruscha’s notes about the project, the Library of Congress letter, and an advertisement with the headline “REJECTED Oct. 2, 1963 by the Library of Congress.”
Four large bins containing the archival material of artist Ed Ruscha arrived at the Ransom Center recently. Packed and carefully layered within were boxes, tubes, and portfolios containing Ruscha’s notable creations on paper. The collection includes his limited edition artist’s books and deluxe suites of prints, photographic publications, colorful exhibition posters, prints of his 16 mm movies, and a rich assortment of papers and journals documenting the creation of his publications and art commissions and referencing his various literary influences. Together, this material represents the achievements of a remarkable artistic career that spans more than half a century.
Born in 1937, Ed Ruscha is considered today to be one of the most important artists of his generation. Words and wry phrases have always played a central role in his artwork, beginning with the West Coast Pop Art phenomena of the 1960s where his roots run deep. For Ruscha, whose background includes commercial art and typesetting, words are visually malleable and can carry multiple meanings. “I like the idea of a word becoming a picture, almost leaving its body, then coming back and becoming a word again,” Ruscha once said.
Arts writer, Calvin Tomkins, summed it up best: “His (Ruscha’s) early paintings are not pictures of words but words treated as visual constructs.”
Single word paintings with odd titles such as Oof (1963) and Boss (1964) were early precursors to more complex works such as the series of rhyming prints titled News, Mews, Pews, Brews, Stews & Dues (1970), which are included in the archive.
Ruscha’s art would evolve and expand intellectually—Marcel Duchamp and Jasper Johns were early influences—to become beautifully crafted and complex conceptual works of art, which have been described over the years as being comedic, deadpan, and elegantly laconic.
West Coast car culture and commutes on Route 66 between Los Angeles and Oklahoma where Ruscha grew up all helped inspire many of his photography-based artist’s books such as Twentysix Gasoline Stations (1962), Royal Road Test (1980), and Parking Lots (1999). All are represented in the archive.
Most recently published is On the Road (2010), Ruscha’s limited edition artist book of the classic novel by Jack Kerouac (1922–1969). The archive includes full-size mockups of the book, annotated copies of the novel, sketches, photographs, correspondence, and business papers. These materials resonate perfectly with the Ransom Center’s own collection of materials related to Beat Generation authors, which includes the journal that Kerouac kept while preparing to write On the Road.
Also included in the archive is Sayings (1995), a folio of ten color lithographs bound in linen that are based on Mark Twain’s novel Pudd’nhead Wilson: A Tale (1894). Ruscha selected phrases written by Twain in a black dialect spoken during the era of slavery. He superimposed the phrases (hand-written in what Ruscha calls his “Boy Scout Utility san serif”) over colorful wood grain patterns, creating a tension that resonates with larger social and racial issues in America today.
Ruscha’s creative distillation of popular American culture over the last half century with its layers of typographical code makes him an exciting artist to explore, and, for the Ransom Center, one of the more compelling if not quintessential to acquire.