Six Feet of the 1960s and ’70s: Patty Mucha—Once Mrs. Oldenburg—on Her Archives and New Memoir

  • Before Andy Warhol met The Velvet Underground and designed their iconic banana album cover, the Pop artist occasionally sang backup in a band called The Druds. Minimalist Walter De Maria played drums, painter Larry Poons guitar and composer LaMonte Young saxophone. Artist and poet Patty Mucha was the lead singer.

    “I think it was truly horrible,” Ms. Mucha told Gallerist on the phone from her home in Vermont. “I don’t think we took it seriously enough.” But the artist-musicians were talented, she said, and “the music sounded wonderful. I actually had a good voice—it was pretty snappy in those days.” Jasper Johns handled lyrics—“he wrote absurd lyrics,” she recalled warmly.

    At the time, in the early 1960s, Patty Mucha was Patty Oldenburg, married to sculptor Claes Oldenburg. She has just completed a 400-page memoir about the decade they were husband and wife, from 1960 to 1970. “It’s basically a love story,” Ms. Oldenburg told us. “It’s the years I was with Oldenburg, making the soft sculptures, being involved in the Pop art world.” (The two still keep in touch.)

    Ms. Mucha has yet to find a publisher for her manuscript. Meanwhile, she is in the process of selling her archives—roughly six feet of material, when compiled—through the SoHo-based publisher Granary Books. There are letters from Bob Dylan, poet Kenward Elmslie and artist Carolee Schneeman, photographs of her by Warhol and Robert McElroy, performing in Oldenburg’s 1960 Blackouts happening, and a trove of ephemera. (“Sorry about the rash,” one postcard from Mr. Johns reads. “We missed you.”)

    Why sell now? “First of all, I’m 76,” she answered quickly. “I live in a farm house, and I had all of this stuff in boxes. It’s important to get it out there and be organized.” She has stipulated that the archive not be divided, and that it be sold to an institution. “It is about putting it in a safe place,” she said. “Keeping it is not safe.”

    “She kept the best stuff,” Steve Clay, of Granary Books, said. “And she was wonderfully situated so that she came into contact with a number of disciplines.” Ms. Mucha had trained as an artist, but befriended musicians, poets and other downtown types. She appeared in films by Warhol, made art and worked closely with Oldenburg. She saved most of her letters.

    After breaking with Mr. Oldenburg, Ms. Mucha, in her mid-30s, became involved with the poet and musician Richard Hell, who was not yet 20. “We had an intense relationship, and we’re still good friends,” she said. One photo in the archive, taken by Bevan Davies around 1970, shows a lanky Mr. Hell posing against a white wall with Ms. Mucha floating in front of him in a short dress, cigarette in hand. They stare down the camera. It is one hell of an image. We asked how she managed to part with it. “I have a better one by the same photographer on my wall,” she replied.

    Ms. Mucha moved to Vermont about 34 years ago. “I’m trained as an artist,” she said. “But I became like a farmer. I planted, I farmed, I canned. I did all the things you do when you move to the country.” She uses e-mail to keep in touch now, though she occasionally prints out letters that she wants to save.

    Given the diversity of material in the archive—Yvonne Rainer, Johanna VanDerBeek, John Lennon, John Cage and Abbie Hoffman are also among the scores of names whose work is included—it could fit in any number of museums or archives. Which seems fitting. “There was a lot of cross-pollination then,” Mr. Clay said. “Everyone knew each other because it was a smaller world.”

    Ms. Mucha concurred. “The artists, the poets and the writers—well I’m not sure about the writers—and the dancers, they were all friends,” she said. “There were huge parties then, and we all attended.”

  • Photo courtesy Patty Mucha and Granary Books, New York

  • Photo courtesy Patty Mucha and Granary Books, New York

  • Photo courtesy Patty Mucha and Granary Books, New York

  • Photo courtesy Patty Mucha and Granary Books, New York

  • Photo courtesy Patty Mucha and Granary Books, New York

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