The Bus is Back: Mason Williams in Los Angeles | Printed Matter's LA ART BOOK FAIR

The Bus is Back:
Williams in Los Angeles
A special exhibition at Printed Matter's LA ART BOOK FAIR
February 11 - 14, 2016

Alden Projects™ announces The Bus Is Back: Mason Williams in Los Angeles, a special exhibition curated by Alden Projects™, New York in the context of Printed Matter’s LA ART BOOK FAIR. The exhibition explores the far-flung legacy of artist, musician, writer, and producer, screenwriter Mason Williams during his years in Los Angeles in the 1960s. Although more widely acknowledged for his Grammy award winning writing for both television (notably for the Smothers Brothers) and music  (his original composition, Classical Gas is the most played instrumental in the history of radio), Williams’ pioneering contributions to the art of California conceptualism are the focus of this special exhibition.
Notably, Mason Williams' Bus (1967), a 36-foot long, silkscreened image of a Greyhound bus, conceived nearly 50 years ago is unfurled here. Self-published, hand-assembled, and distributed independently in a boxed edition of 200—it was originally folded in the manner of a road map—Bus was imagined in Los Angeles around the same time as Ed Ruscha’s silver-covered, Every Building on the Sunset Strip, a kindred, artist’s publication unfolding to over 27 feet.

Exhibited at the Pasadena Museum of Art in 1967, Bus was later stationed at The Museum of Modern Art, New York the following year. In addition to selected archival materials and documentation concerning the production and distribution of this icon of California conceptualism, this exhibition also unpacks other off-the-beaten track vehicles by Mason Williams similarly destined for unconventional spaces. These include artist’s billboards, artist’s advertisements, and an array of artist’s publications and books that were more numerous than the better-known counterparts by his sometimes collaborator, sometimes roommate, and lifetime friend since fourth grade, Ed Ruscha.

Royal Road Test (1967), a collaborative book authored and published together with Ed Ruscha is also present: it is a dead-pan and matter-of-fact documentation of the results of throwing a Royal typewriter out the window of a speeding car on a desert highway. (Tellingly, Ruscha was “the driver,” and Williams “the thrower”). This book resulted from a weekend-long, desert road trip with Patrick Blackwell to the Sahara Hotel in Las Vegas on August 19 - 21, 1966, when the trio generated not one, but two seminal books together (the first was Mason Williams’ The Night I Lost My Baby [1967] a photo and text narrative with gold covers about a lost girlfriend in Las Vegas (with layout and endpapers by Ed Ruscha and photographs by Patrick Blackwell. The arrangement of the photos was determined by a throw of dice).

Williams does not understate Ruscha’s impact, partially dedicating his 1969 book, The Mason Williams Reading Matter as follows: “To Ed Ruscha for opening my eyes.” (Paradoxically, this book alone was printed in an edition of 165,000—more than the entire output of all editions of all of Ed Ruscha’s self-published books combined). For his part, the latter’s use of a Mason Williams story—a parable about creativity and sexuality—in his book Crackers (1969) provides just one example of how the dialogue and affinities between the two artists plainly went both ways. Ruscha later adapted Williams’ story into his 1971 film, Premium.

Making its Los Angeles debut here is Sunflower (1967), Mason Williams’ series of vintage photographs documenting the artist’s attempt to make the world’s largest drawing—in smoke. To make the work, Williams hired the California aviator who reputedly invented the art of skywriting to execute his drawing. "In 1967,” Williams recalls, “I had an idea for a film: to draw the world's biggest sunflower. The film was to be a slow-motion aerial ballet in which an old bi-wing aeroplane skywriter ‘draws’ the stem and leaves of a flower in the sky beneath the sun, the sun itself thereby becoming the blossom of a ‘Sun’ flower." The film went unrealized for technical reasons, and the photographs here are all that remain to index the romantic conceptualism of this wonder-making caper.

Exploring the surprising, ephemeral places that art can occupy in a variety of media and in everyday life, Mason Williams’ contributions to the history of Los Angeles conceptualism in the 1960s continues to inspire, surprise and to defy classification.

Todd Alden, Director of Alden Projects™
© 2016                                         

Alden Projects™ is grateful for the support of Printed Matter, New York and Art Los Angeles Contemporary for helping bring this exhibition to Los Angeles.

Printed Matter's LA ART BOOK FAIR

Thursday, February 11, 6–9pm

Friday, February 12, 1pm-6pm
Saturday, February 13, 11am-7pm
Sunday, February 14, 11am-6pm

Free and Open to the Public

The Geffen Contemporary at MOCAVISITOR INFORMATION