buk exhibit sets the huntington on fire (not literally)

October 13, 2010

Los Angeles might be well known for sun, surf and celebrities, but its literary history has a reputation for being dark, depressing and — in the case of Charles Bukowski — drunk.

Like other 20th century L.A.-based writers such as John Fante, Raymond Chandler and Joan Didion, Bukowski made his career writing tales of the city’s murky underbelly. Unlike other L.A. writers, however, Bukowski lived the hard-edged lifestyle of his characters, who drank away the days, worked dead-end jobs, gambled at the racetrack and mingled with other outcasts living on the fringes of society.

As the so-called “Poet Laureate of Skid Row,” Bukowski is an unlikely cult hero. But the wine-soaked womanizer and one-time mail sorter at a Downtown Los Angeles post office defied all literary and cultural conventions and become the voice for a disenchanted post-war generation by making fans out of book publishers and imprisoned felons alike.

Almost as unlikely as Bukowski’s own career is the location of a new exhibit chronicling the late author’s life and work. “Charles Bukowski: Poet on the Edge” opened last Saturday and runs through Feb. 14 at The Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens, which is known for its collection of 18th century French portraits and rare printed manuscripts.

A classical institution that showcases bronze Roman statues and Goya paintings, The Huntington is the least likely place to display the dusty typewriter and permanently stained wine glass that sat on Bukowski’s desk for the majority of his career. And yet, after winding through the main exhibition hall with the permanent collection (housing The Gutenberg Bible, letters written by Abraham Lincoln and John James Audubon’s folio Birds of America), a sign warns visitors that “this exhibit may contain strong language” before entering the exhibition.

read the rest here…



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