The Grey Art Gallery, located on campus and free to NYU students, is currently hosting an exhibition titled “Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg.” The exhibition features photographs capturing many of the recurrent characters in Ginsberg’s life. In these photographs, the subjects are participating in acts ranging from standing nude on a beach to tripping on DMT in Ginsberg’s own apartment.
The pictures themselves are all captioned with the poet’s slapdash handwriting, a detail which shows the casual nature of the works and allows an interesting insight into the mind of an artist. Each caption and photograph portrays a moment that can range from seemingly mundane to entirely absurd.
The photographs are awesome to see in person as they capture a generation in a way that is simultaneously exciting and haunting. Many iconic New York greats are captured in these candid portraits including household names such as Bob Dylan, Jack Kerouac and Keith Haring. The exhibition shows the real life experience of an artist with photographs of these dudes just kicking it really hard in the city and across the nation with Ginsberg there to capture the moments in what he called “keepsakes.”
As NYU students this exhibition is particularly important because it displays with elegance the transitory nature of a life lived in New York. This transience can carry over to describe the college experience we’re all currently taking part in. Everything about the fleeting college experience is ephemeral, and Ginsberg catches snapshots of lives that were and are as transient as our hallowed four years.
We all know that New York isn’t easy and that capturing it accurately is even harder. The only way to do that is the focus on the personal instead of the grandiose. Essentially, we get by with a little help from our friends, and so did Allen Ginsberg. He loved his friends enough to take and preserve these photos of them and in that way immortalize what he calls the “sacredness of the moment.”
This exhibition also functions well in that it has the ability to pose the valid question: what is the importance of art and therefore the artist in society? Is it worth living on a prayer? Many NYU students are looking for the answer to that question as we speak. Ginsberg certainly seemed to find art worth the trouble and surrounded himself with artist friends who agreed. This exhibition, without meaning to, perfectly addresses the temporality of our shared NYU experience and Ginsberg’s experience as an artist with a quotation stating that his photographs were “looking back to a fleeting moment in a floating world.”
Basically what we’re trying to say here is this exhibition is dope and you have no excuse to miss it. The Grey Gallery itself is calm and collected, and the layout of the photographs allows for time and space to enjoy them fully. The photos themselves, while not something that could be called high art but rather keepsakes, allow for a gallery-goer to experience a time period encapsulated in frames on blank white walls. And who knows, maybe you’ll get inspired and start carrying a cheap camera just like Ginsberg to capture your friends live and in color.