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"Better Books: Art, Anarchy and Apostasy" exhibition at ZKM Museum of Contemporary Art
Better Books, 92-94 Charing Cross Road©/photo: Richard Friedman, Oakland.

KARLSRUHE.- This archive-structured exhibition is dedicated to the history of a small English bookshop – “Better Books” of Charing Cross Road in London. In the 1950s and 1960s, this bookshop became the center of the London avant-garde movement. Successful writers such as the artist biographer Barry Miles were regular guests at the shop, which proprietor Tony Godwin ran completely independently. The reason for it was that Godwin’s “Better Books“ offered a space for the free expression of art and opinions far removed from social conformity or religiously prescribed behavior. At ZKM | Karlsruhe, next to documentation of the goings-on at “Better Books,” films and sound material by well-known writers and artists are being exhibited, as well as the works that were created there. The exhibition thus portrays not only the growing significance of this shop, but it also unites so to speak the histories of the artistic avant-garde members who were active there.

In the 1950s and 1960s, London underwent a cultural revolution, which changed forever the way contemporary art would be seen and set off a radical reformulating of artistic creation. United in their disbelief in the wellestablished cultural norms, the post-war generation of artists, poets and writers found new ways to distance themselves from the previous generation. Many of these artists first met one another and took refuge at Tony Godwin’s Charing Cross bookstore. With the successful concept by Bill Butler, Barry Miles and Bob Cobbing, “Better Books” became not only a haven but also the platform and “voice” of the explosively radical mien within London. The bookshop enabled and initiated meetings, gave room for ideas, and became a sanctuary for numerous avant-garde artists, poets, filmmakers, musicians and writers.

The exhibition presents the artworks, films, and poems that bore witness to this movement, as well as rarely shown photographs, ephemera, and additional archive material. This presentation gives a deep insight into the scene around “Better Books” from which a multitude of activities and events emenated, such as the “International Poetry Incarnation“, Gustav Metzger’s “Destruction in Art Symposium (DIAS)“, The People Show, the foundation of the London Filmmakers’ Cooperative or John Latham’s and Jeffrey Shaw’s Book “Plumbing“-Events.

For the first time it will be possible to see and to experience a live presentation of Gustav Metzger’s re-fabrication of his own work “Earth from Space (revisited).” The project (1966–2012) belongs to Metzger’s earliest experiments with liquid crystals, which became the basis for his psychedelic light object. The seldom shown work “Sound Hat” (1970) by Annea Lockwood, of which 15 copies were produced for Henri Chopin’s “OU,” is likewise a part of the show along with a documentation of Criton Tomazos’s unfinished “Cage” project.

Additionally, early works by Jeff Nuttall can be seen, as well the bizarre constructions of Bruce Lacey and also John Latham’s sculpture „The Laws of England“. Films by Stephen Dwoskin, Pip Benveniste, John Latham, Jeff Keen, Peter Whitehead, Piero Heliczer and many others form the mise-en-scène of the exhibition at ZKM. Also present will be documents and publications by, among others, Bob Cobbing, Jeff Nuttall, Alexander Trocchi and Dom Sylvester Houdard.

Pip Benveniste, William S. Burroughs, Bob Cobbing, Stephen Dwoskin, Group H, Piero Heliczer, Dom Sylvester Houdard, Jeff Keen, Bruce Lacey, John Latham, Annea Lockwood, London Filmmakers’ Cooperative, Gustav Metzger, Jeff Nuttall, Jennifer Pike, John Rowan, Criton Tomazos, Alexander Trocchi, Werner Schreib, John Sharkey, Jeffrey Shaw, Islwyn Watkins, Peter Whitehead, and many more.

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