The Exhibition: Joe Orton’s Library Books

Joe Orton library books

Yes, it’s childish. Yes, it’s illegal. Yes, it’s disrespectful. But since when did childish and illegal and disrespectful mean something wasn’t incredibly funny? We’re talking about a new exhibition of ‘defaced’ library books by gay playwright Joe Orton and his partner in crime (and eventual murderer!) Kenneth Halliwell, lent from the Islington Local History Centre.

The basic gist is that the gay boys have subtly subverted real library book dust jackets to introduce a new dark and often quite sexual dimension to volumes that were there for anyone to take out. As well as giant pussycats stalking Agatha Christie thrillers there are more political swipes such as on the collected plays of the closeted Emlyn Williams who has had works such as ‘Up The Back’ and ‘Fucked By Monty’ added to his oeuvre.

Quite apart from anything, the mid-century meets surrealism look of these acts of vandalism (for which Orton was actually jailed for six months!) is very fresh, very now and very desirable.

The exhibition runs until 26th February at the Ancient & Modern gallery at 201 Whitecross Street EC1, near the Barbican.

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