Jonathan Williams, Erect, n.d., Polaroid photograph, 3.1 x 3 inches
Poems and Polaroids
March 9 – April 14, 2019
Institute 193 (1B), New York
Jonathan Williams spent his life finding things: words, images, people, places, and for our immediate purposes, photographs and poems. The Canadian literary critic Hugh Kenner described Jonathan Williams as the “truffle hound of American poetry," undoubtedly for his ability to find and publish the works of lesser-known talents under his Jargon Society imprint. But he also found many of his own poems, in signs and conversation, along the highways of America, and in his own backyard.
Guy Davenport likened Williams’ employ of “found language” to the use of “found footage” by avant-garde filmmakers and Buckminster Fuller once called Williams “our Johnny Appleseed.” Williams for his part explained his fascination of such material in simpler terms: “Well, as you know, a lot of my poetry is found and that’s, I think, because I think I’m quite a good listener and I’m willing to lay back and listen, and I think it’s something do with living in the country… I like to hear things, so if you listen carefully then you do find things. I do it all the time…That’s the thing I love about found material, you wake it up, you “make” it into something.”
Beginning in 1984, Jonathan Williams undertook a series of road trips in the company of Guy Mendes and Roger Manley, to document “what tickled us, what moved us, and what (sometimes) appalled us in the Southeastern United States.” The writings and photographs made during and inspired by those trips have just been released in Walks to the Paradise Garden (Institute 193, 2018). While exploring the depths of Southern culture, Williams found inspiration in dozens of signs, maps, and other roadside attractions, many of which became fodder for his visual poems. This exhibition presents those poems, lovingly updated by Ethan Fedele, alongside Williams’ Polaroids which are often concrete evidence of his inspiration. Poems and Polaroids coincides with the release of Walks to the Paradise Garden and an exhibition inspired by the book, on view from March 2 at the High Museum of Art (Atlanta) titled Way Out There: The Art of Southern Backroads.
Jonathan Chamberlain Williams was born in Asheville, North Carolina, on March 8, 1929, the only child of Thomas and Georgette Chamberlain Williams. Williams spent most of his youth in Washington DC and later attended Princeton University but dropped out after his freshman year to independently study painting, etching, photography and book design. In 1951 he went to Black Mountain College and along with David Ruff, founded The Jargon Society with the goal of publishing obscure writers. From 1951 to present, the publisher has created a total of 116 books featuring the works of Robert Rauschenberg, Ralph Eugene Meatyard, Paul Metcalf, Charles Olson, Doris Ullman, and many others.
This exhibition is in conjunction with the release of Walks to the Paradise Garden.