Allen Ruppersberg, Bill Graham and Robert Landau at the Skirball

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Artists can make us see the familiar anew and that is the case with Allen Ruppersberg's installation The Singing Posters: Poetry Sound Collage Sculpture Book, Allen Ginsberg's Howl. It is on view at the Skirball through August 23. 

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Installation detail, "The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg's Howl by Allen Ruppersberg," 2003/2005
Courtesy of Allen Ruppersberg

Ruppersberg found that his students at UCLA did not know about Ginsberg or Howl and their importance to the radical art of the 1950's Beat Generation. He has recreated a 2003 installation that literally forces viewers to read Howl in a different way: Aloud. Or at least mumbling to yourself since each word is presented phonetically and defeats scanning and speed-reading. The famous first line now states: "Y Saw thuh Best Myndz uhv my je'nuh'ray'shin di-stroyd By Mad-nis."

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"The Singing Posters: Allen Ginsberg's Howl by Allen Ruppersberg" (detail), 2003/2005
Photo by Augusta Wood

Printed on red, white and green banded cardboard stock, the same used by LA's Colby Printing for rock concerts and wrestling matches, Ruppersberg makes Howl a poem for the everyman. As indeed it was intended when Ginsberg first read it out loud in San Francisco 60 years ago. But Ruppersberg simultaneously makes us participate. (There is an audio-recording of the poem if you want to don headphones.) In addition to reading, you take in all of the random posters that Ruppersberg has interspersed throughout the text to further defeat any straightforward literality. The artist had bought overruns of the Colby posters for decades so when the firm, beloved by many artists, was closed in 2012 Ruppersberg could draw from his collection. As a result, this view of Howl must be seen as part of the graphic history of an era and of the history of Southern California, a source of poignancy for Ruppersberg in much of his work.

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Note from Donovan to Bill Graham
San Francisco, November 1967
Offset print with inscribed ink
Collection of David and Alex Graham
Photo by Robert Wedemeyer

The name Bill Graham (1931-1991) needs no introduction on KCRW but the life of the famous rock promoter is being presented at the Skirball in Bill Graham and the Rock and Roll Revolution.

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Rock promoter Bill Graham onstage before the final concert at Fillmore East
Fillmore East, New York, January 1, 1970
Chromogenic print by John Olson
The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images

The concert posters and photographs of acts at the Fillmore are not exactly unknown but seeing the great span of his support for a rapidly changing 60's rock scene, and what a scene it was, is even more impressive when shown with the documentation of his life as a young Jewish refugee from Nazi Germany. The show continues through October 11.

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© Robert Landau/Rock 'N' Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip/Angel City Press 

Meanwhile, those great rock billboards that dominated the Sunset Strip from the 60's to the 80's are not lost to history thanks to photographer Robert Landau. His big color prints are memory lane for some of us, history lessons for others. His exhibition, Rock & Roll Billboards of the Sunset Strip is on view through August 16.