new-york

William S. Burroughs

Stellan Holm Gallery

“Cut word lines—Cut music lines—Smash the control images—Smash the control machine—Burn the books—Kill the priests—Kill! Kill! Kill!” The abundance of such quotable quotes in the oeuvre of William S. Burroughs—this example is from his 1961 novel The Soft Machine—might lead some to expect that the late Beat prophet’s visual output should be as innovative and incendiary as his writing. Unfortunately, despite the unequivocal assurance of Stellan Holm Gallery’s press release that Uncle Bill, who died in 1997, was “a brilliant artist,” who spent “hours each day painting, drawing, and shooting,” the works on display in Holm’s recent minisurvey tend to feel oddly retrogressive in their privileging of gestural improvisation and use of bullet holes as physical stand-ins for penetrating ideas.

One of the two earliest works in the show, Sore Shoulder, 1982, is a case in point. A small sheet of plywood

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