Hidden in Plain Sight

The Magnificent Beat Collection of Artist Richard Prince

In the world of the Beat Generation there is a core group of people who concern themselves with things the casual reader might never consider. For instance, what happened to Jack Kerouac’s original scroll manuscript of Big Sur that no one has seen in years? Kerouac aficionados have been debating that for some time, as scholars want to study it and compare the original draft to the published text.

An open letter to Richard Prince. Click here to read the full text >

Then there are the unique one-of-a-kind items experts have heard about but very few people have ever seen. Two copies of Howl inscribed by Allen Ginsberg in 1956, one given to Jack Kerouac and one to Lucien Carr. The copy of On The Road that Jack used on the Steve Allen Show in 1959, the one Jack secretly doctored by taping pages of his unpublished novel Visions of Cody and reading from that with no forewarning.

As it turns out, the answers to these questions and others have been publicly available for years, but Beat fans were looking in all the wrong places.

All of these items and more have been purchased over the years by artist Richard Prince. Prince has given interviews, published photos of these items in books, and has had images on his own website for several years.

Richard Prince’s collection of Beat Generation books is, without a doubt, the most important private collection of Beat books and original documents in existence. He keeps them in specially made leather bound boxes with gold lettering. It appears much of the collection was purchased from various literary estates, and some from Bob Dylan and other sources.

Over these last few years, the Beat Museum has been quietly making entreaties to Richard Prince, both directly and through intermediaries. Prince is on record that at some point in the future he will bequeath these unique and irreplaceable items to a museum. We’ve been wanting to speak with Richard to be sure the Beat Museum is at the top of that list.

The way we look at it, why leave these magnificent items to a major institution, no matter how great that institution might be? We’re talking about the counterculture here! These are the people who rebelled against entrenched institutions. In many cases, it was the established museums, universities, and galleries that ignored, or even actively shut out the Beats and the Hippies until history and shifts in popular culture forced them to acknowledge the work of these countercultural movements. If Richard Prince’s collection goes to a major mainstream institution, isn’t it likely that many of these treasures will end up mixed into an archive, along with other priceless literary artifacts, and hidden in plain sight yet again. Why not place them somewhere they’ll get the prominence they deserve?

The status quo doesn’t want the counterculture preserved. The powers that be want counterculture history to be the last thing that is preserved. It’s the Beat Museum that preserves the items important to the counterculture.”
V. Vale Search & Destroy, RE/Search Publications

An Open Letter to Richard Prince:

Richard Prince
New York, New York

Dear Richard,

My name is Jerry Cimino, Founder and Director of The Beat Museum in San Francisco. The Beat Museum is dedicated to preserving the memories and celebrating the work of the counterculture in general, and the Beat Generation specifically.

I’ve been trying to reach you regarding a matter of importance to both of us for the last two years, with no success. I’ve asked mutual acquaintances to connect us, I’ve mailed letters—I even had the opportunity to speak with you for 30 seconds at a gallery event in San Francisco before you were whisked away to make some remarks to the attendant crowd.

I appreciate that you’re likely approached by a lot of strangers every day. I imagine, like many in your position, you probably employ people whose job it is to keep people like me at bay. Hence my turning to an open letter.

Two years ago, while doing some research on Jack Kerouac, I happened to find your website and I was awestruck by the photographs of your magnificent collection. It was heartening to see so many important items gathered together in one place. I quickly realized you possess the greatest private collection of Beat Generation and other counterculture materials in the world.

As I’m certain you know, Beat scholars and enthusiasts have long been curious as to the whereabouts of many of the items in your collection. Jack Kerouac’s original typewritten scroll of Big Sur; or the copy of On the Road he read on The Steve Allen Show in 1959; copies of Howl inscribed to Kerouac and Lucien Carr. I won’t belabor the point by listing them all, as you obviously know the significance of what you have.

I am very grateful you have taken it upon yourself to safely acquire and preserve in a single collection so many irreplaceable artifacts that mean so much to so many. I read in an article that it is your intention to one day bequeath many of the important literary items you’ve collected over the years to an appropriate institution.

In that regard, my firm belief is The Beat Museum is the best choice you can make for a permanent home for your collection.

You’re a serious counterculture enthusiast, Richard. That much is extremely obvious to a guy like me, who would be doing exactly what you’re doing were I in a position to do it. When it comes time for you to let these items go, do you really want them to go to some conventional institution, where these unique and precious items are more likely to be stored away and forgotten than to be seen by genuine fans and scholars who will appreciate their true value?

The way I look at it, bequeathing these magnificent items to a large institution, no matter how great that institution might be, can only diminish their enduring standing as they are relegated to obscurity amongst older and more “classic” literary works. We’re talking about the counterculture here! These are the very people the established galleries, museums, and universities ignored, dismissed and sneeringly rejected.

You’ve clearly spent considerable time, money, and energy collecting these “outlawed” treasures. Why not place them where they will be lovingly cared for, displayed and regarded with the prominence they deserve?

I’d love to hear from you at jerry@kerouac.com or 1-800-KER-OUAC. And when the time comes when we can all travel again, I’d love to meet you in New York to discuss this matter in person.

Thank you very much for your consideration.

Jerry Cimino
The Beat Museum