John Ashbery and Kenneth Goldsmith Collaborate on a Rug: “Love and Career”

John Ashbery & Kenneth Goldsmith

John Ashbery has a long history of collaborating with other writers and artists, from co-written novels (A Nest of Ninnies, with James Schuyler) to poem-art hybrids like The Vermont Notebook (with Joe Brainard).

But I don’t think he’s ever collaborated on a rug before.

Now he has.  Ashbery and the poet Kenneth Goldsmith have collaborated on a project for BravinLee programs, as part of its “ongoing series of artist designed rugs.” Goldsmith — a conceptual poet and tireless advocate of what he calls “uncreative writing” practices, like appropriation and transcription — has worked with Ashbery to produce a rug titled “Love and Career.”  It features a fragment of Ashbery’s handwriting (chosen by Goldsmith from middle-of-the-night jottings Ashbery made from his dreams) combined with an image lifted from a painting by Joan Miró.

And now this hand-knotted, limited edition rug can be yours for only $4500.

Goldsmith explained how the rug came about:

With one foot in the world of Abstract Expressionism and the other in Pop Art, John Ashbery’s work embodies a series of intentional contradictions. Sincere & ironic, found & fabricated, creative & uncreative, his poems are concrete demonstrations and celebrations of uncertainty, betweeness, and not-knowing.

When I first suggested appropriating the work of Joan Miró as the basis of our collaboration, Ashbery shot back, “Jeanne Moreau? I adore her!” Bang. High and low demolished in one platitude.

Every night, by the side of his bed, John keeps a pen and a pad. During the night, when he wakes up from a dream, he scribbles a few words or a random phrase that is ricocheting around his head, and then goes back to sleep. Many of these fragments find their way into poems.

We agreed that these might be a good way to begin our collaboration. I left John’s Chelsea apartment with an enormous envelope filled with years’ worth of scribblings – hundreds of scraps of paper emblazoned with faint whisps of language, often on hotel stationary. Over the next few months, I combed through these, scanning and transcribing them, selecting the ones that, for whatever reason, really zinged. I then sought out images of modernist painting and began laying his ephemeral markings over iconic imagery. The contradiction between the power of the paintings and the delicate intimacy of John’s handwriting seemed to strike a note similar to the balancing act that I find so compelling in John’s work.

As an appropriationist, I do little more than reframe and remix preexisting cultural artifacts. By placing one atop the other, a striking fusion of opposites occurred, resulting in an object that is at once intellectual & dumb, abstract & concrete, important & trivial, and profound & empty. Frame it respectfully and hang it on the wall or stomp all over it with dirty boots. Any use – or misuse – is encouraged.

On July 4, 2013, Goldsmith tweeted the following image and wrote: “Yesterday, John Ashbery and I signed certificates for our collaboration, a hand-tufted Tibetan text rug.”

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John Ashbery and Kenneth Goldsmith collaborating on Tibetan text rug, July 2013

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