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PRANKS! Excerpt: Robert Delford Brown

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R/S: What happened when Herman Nitsch visited?

ROBERT DELFORD BROWN: We asked if he wanted beer, wine or whiskey, and he replied, “Ve haf them all!” SO we drank until everyone was blind.

RHETT: We were one of the first Mom-and-Pop religions—why not? Everyone could start their own church; there could be one on every corner. The night Bob came up with the idea, Allan Kaprow was in hysterics—he knew that Bob had stumbled onto something. Before our first event we really didn’t know how to do happenings or performances, but from my theater background—I was the one who hired a press agent—we got the meat show a lot of publicity. It was a big success, and after that we waited for lightning to strike, but it didn’t.

So then Bob decided to make huge, hand-colored sex/murder photographs—

RDB: I figured I had to push harder. John Cage had made the statement, “Art is anything you can get away with,” and I thought, “If you can get away with anything—why not?”

R: Bob figured that the meat show wasn’t a strong enough piece. So we imported this four-volume set of books from Germany (with the aid of my psychiatrist; “laymen” couldn’t import these at the time). They contained some incredible photos, such as a woman who cut her hand off because she was a guilt-ridden masturbator. One man was a foot-fetishist; another did a self-castration. At the same time we mail-ordered photos from the little ads in the back of magazines (e.g., “Seven Oriental Poses”) and went to little shops around 42nd Street and bought sex books and magazines. Then Bob selected the photos he wanted to work on.

We went to Modern Age (the big photo developing center) to have the photos blown up to life size, but they wouldn’t touch ’em—they were afraid of them. So we had to produce a letter written by Lawrence Alloway of the Guggenheim that Bob was a serious artist and this was serious work, after which they agreed. The negatives were kept in their vault and were enlarged on Sunday when no women were working. Then Bob carefully hand-colored them.

We took the final works to Ivan Karp and many others, but nobody would touch them—they were too tough. At first people would say, “God, these are wonderful!” and start to leaf through them, but there would always be one photo that would hit somebody in a weak spot, and they’d suggest, “Uh—why don’t you take them to so-and-so around the corner?”

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