Friday, December 18, 2009

"I Am A Seller of Used Ideas"

A mock invitation card to the 1970 Oz obscenity trial over the
'Schoolkids Issue'with a note on the back from Richard Neville,
one of the co-editors,saying that he was on his way to court.
The Judge said that his co-accused Felix Dennis
was too thick to warrant a long custodial sentence.

Carl Williams, who heads up the Counterculture division of Maggs Bros. modern department, has curated an eclectic spread of over a hundred posters, illustrations, propaganda pamphlets for Maggs Gallery’s current exhibit, Please Do Not Bend.

He recently sat down with Daven Wu of The Sixties for an interview about the exhibition and his job, which we are pleased to excerpt here:

Why have you decided to host this exhibition now?

I was surrounded by urban guerrillas, occultists, crazies, freaks, punks, space cadets and revolutionaries. The exhibition is a rearguard action to deplete their ranks.

Scarce poster heralding Kenneith Anger's Crowley
films at the Straight Theater in San Francisco,
in the Fall of the Summer of Love.
Is counterculture an antidote to culture?
No, but it's a tonic for the Kulturtruppen.

Take us through some of your favourite items on show.

#12 is a mock invitation card to the 1970 Oz obscenity trial over the 'Schoolkids Issue' with a note on the back from Richard Neville, one of the co-editors, saying that he was on his way to court. The judge said that Neville's co-accused Felix Dennis was too thick to warrant a long custodial sentence. Felix is a very happy cat now with £650 million in the bank. My other favourite is #25, a wild découpage from the 1850s by an unknown mad person or laudanum fiend full of apocalyptic images and inked blood. Evelyn Waugh had a complete one of these so called 'bloody books' that is now in the Harry Ransom Centre in Texas.

One of Harry Gordon's famous paper dresses in the original bag,
made in London, 1968.

Does the exhibition have a message?

Yes, always send flat stuff in an envelope stamped "Please Do Not Bend"'

How has countercultural ephemera changed in the time you've been a specialist?

It's moving away from the 60s rapidly and into the 70s as the age related demographic changes and the Big Lebowski makes way for the Big Rotten.

How have people's attitudes to it changed and does that say anything 
about 'culture' today?

It largely brings a smile to the face. Whereas, before, it probably brought a frown and a wrinkled brow and maybe even a custodial sentence.

How long have you worked at Maggs and how would you explain to 
someone you've never met what your job is?

For five years, I habitually said that I have worked here for about 2 years and that was about two years ago. I am a seller of used ideas.

A very powerful poster in horror movie colours for a canceled show
from the important Anarchy In The U.K. tour, 1976. The Sex Pistols.
The Damned,
The Clash and Thunders refused to play under threat
of a morals review committee of local Derby worthies.

Where (and when) did your interest in counterculture stem from?

Raincliffe Comprehensive, Scarborough, North Yorkshire circa 1982: we had a crass mock election. I formed an Anarchy Party, stencilled up the posters, ran on an anti-school ticket and won over the banned NF skins to vote for me by convincing them that their real problem was 
the headmaster not immigration. Much to the chagrin of my teachers, I nearly won and they had to disqualify 75 or so of the votes because they bore the circled 'A' of anarchism. Post-election, Labour sought an alliance. This was probably the first one between a mainstream 
socialist party and an anarchist group since the Popular Front with the CNT in late thirties Spain. '¡Venceremos!'

What single thing in the Maggs Counterculture archive do you hold most dear?

Today, the stock item I covet the most is a massive handmade appliquéd banner from the Spanish Civil War with the slogan "'¡Exterminar Las Ratas Fascistas!"

If you could get your hands on any one thing to add to your archive, what would it be?

Today, for stock I would love the roll manuscript for The Marquis's '120 Days of Sodom' that's on loan to the Bodmer collection in Geneva. Yesterday, one of the two front and back volumes of Pierre Louys's private photographic brothel journals in clandestine bindings. I would prefer the former. Tomorrow, who knows?


Gallery of images from the exhibit here.

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