Cool Man in a Golden Age: Alfred Leslie's Film, Installation and Book Work, 1957-2009

A retrospective exhibition exploring Leslie's recent films and writings as well as lesser known earlier work


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Artistic legacies
  • Curatorial practice

Organizing Institutions



Judith E. Stein


Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, University of Pennsylvania's Department of English and Cinema Studies Program, the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Fund to Support Contemporary Culture and Visual Arts

Process initiated


Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104


50% Formal - 50% Informal

Slought is pleased to announce Cool Man in a Golden Age: Alfred Leslie's Film, Installation and Book Work, 1957-2009, curated by Judith E. Stein. The exhibition will be on display in the Slought Foundation galleries from January 14-March 7, 2009, and is made possible in part through the generous sponsorship of the Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, University of Pennsylvania's Department of English and Cinema Studies Program, the Emily and Jerry Spiegel Fund to Support Contemporary Culture and Visual Arts, and the Society of Friends of Slought. The opening reception with the artist present will take place on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 from 6:30-8:30pm. 

A man of diverse talents and prodigious energy, Alfred Leslie (b. Bronx, NY, 1927) is internationally celebrated for both his abstract expressionist and realist paintings. But less well-known are his films, photographs, installations, and writings. Much of the art in Cool Man in a Golden Age: Alfred Leslie's Film, Installation and Book Work, 1957-2009 has never been exhibited before; not only will the show debut Leslie's most recent films and writings but also present little known earlier work. The exhibition also includes a series of seventeen film posters one for each of his films some of which the artist has created expressly for this show. His graphic novella Attacked by the Heart (2008) will premiere in several formats at Slought, one printed by Matt Neff for Common Press, Penn Design, University of Pennsylvania.

The Slought exhibition will include two of Leslie's classic films: Pull My Daisy (1959), the quintessential expression of the Beat Generation, which he co-directed and co-photographed with Robert Frank; and The Last Clean Shirt (1964), a collaborative project with the poet Frank O'Hara, who wrote the text used as subtitles. Slought will debut Leslie's sexually irreverent Einstein's Secret (2008), which includes a video adaptation of Attacked by the Heart, as well as paintings, sound tracks, and Frank O'Hara's poems, streamed as subtitles. Concurrent with the Slought retrospective in Philadelphia, New York's Anthology Film Archives will offer a coordinated program of Leslie's films (Feb. 19-22). Anthology Film Archives is an international center for the preservation, study, and exhibition of film and video with a particular focus on American independent and avant-garde cinema. Judith E. Stein's interview with the artist will appear in the January issue of Art in America.

In conjunction with the exhibition, Slought is partnering with the London-based publisher Lux to produce the first DVD of Leslie's films and videos. It includes not only Pull My Daisy and The Last Clean Shirt, but also two new films: Birth of a Nation 1965 (2008), which incorporates surviving footage from the sixties; and A Stranger Calls at Midnight (2008), an innovative self-interview that reveals for the first time the back-story to several of Leslie's films, and contains two recently discovered outtakes from Pull My Daisy. In addition, the DVD includes Richard Moore's rarely-seen 1966 television documentary of a visit to Leslie's studio by Frank O'Hara and their working together on their second collaboration, Birth of a Nation. Within months of the filming, O'Hara would die in a car accident and Leslie's studio and its contents would be destroyed by fire. With little of his early work extant, Leslie's status as a pioneering painter and filmmaker has become blurred over time. Alfred Leslie: Film, Installation and Book Work, 1957-2009 will acquaint a new generation with the breadth of Leslie's artistic practice.

Leslie's series of large-format Polaroid mug shots, originally numbering several hundred, were lost in the fire. Begun in the fifties, they would influence, along with his later Grisaille paintings, the practice of Chuck Close a decade later. Miraculously, Leslie found two Polaroids in the post-fire rubble. Slought will exhibit works based on the surviving portraits of Sam Francis and of Al Held. In conjunction with the show in its gallery, Slought's website will debut Attacked by the Heart (2008) as well as Cool Man in a Golden Age (1967-1996), his unpublished autobiography-in-verse written in the rhyming scheme Alexander Pushkin devised for Eugene Onegin.

The exhibition will contain a new model of The Jolly, a monumental kinetic sculpture Leslie devised and fabricated in 1961 for curator Pontus Holten but never installed. The Jolly Owner's Manual (1961), a hand-drawn and rubber-stamped artist book, long thought to be lost, will be on view for the first time in the United States in a printed facsimile. Slought will also exhibit a playfully worded scroll response to the Manual by the Art and Technology pioneering engineer Billy Kluver, with whom Leslie collaborated on the technical aspects of The Jolly installation. In the artist's collection, it has never before been on public view. Likewise on view for the first time will be three abstract expressionist collages that Leslie designed for the dust jacket of the first American edition of Robert Frank's The Americans (Grove Press, 1959).

The relationship between painters and poets of the NY artist in the nineteen fifties was critical and so was the general enthusiasm for social change. Leslie's bookwork on view will include two 1967 drawings for Frank O'Hara poems, plus the rarely seen Permanently (Tiber Press 1957), a collaboration with poet Kenneth Koch, for which Leslie created fifteen silk screens based on his collages. The show also includes Leslie's The Hasty Papers (1960), a radical literary and political tabloid he edited and published with contributions by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Sartre, Genet among others. A copy of the original newsprint edition will be on view as well as the revised Millennium edition (2000).

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Alfred Leslie (b. Bronx, NY, 1927) was still a teenager when he first began making paintings, sculpture and films, as well as taking photographs and writing music and short stories. To this day his practice remains multidisciplinary. Following service in the United States Coast Guard (1945-46), he studied with William Baziotes and Tony Smith at New York University on the GI Bill (1947-49). Through friendships forged at NYU's Studio 35, a renowned work and lecture space (1948-50), Leslie entered the community of avant-garde artists, dancers and thinkers who would become known as the New York School. He gained early recognition as a painter in the prestigious Talent 1950 at the Kootz Gallery and the Ninth Street Show (1951). He helped finance his first solo show at New York's Tibor de Nagy Gallery (1952) by appearing as a contestant on the TV show Strike it Rich. Leslie's participation in MoMA's Recent Work by Young Americans (1955) and Sixteen Americans (1960); the Jewish Museum's Artists of the New York School (1957); the Whitney Museum of American Art's 1957 Annual Exhibition; and the Carnegie Museum of Art's 1958 Pittsburgh International, as well as international shows such as Young Americans, Musee d'Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, France (1958); Ten Painters and Sculptors: The Fifth Sao Paulo Biennial, Sao Paulo, Brazil (1959); and Four Americans: Jasper Johns, Alfred Leslie, Robert Rauschenberg, Richard Stankiewicz, Moderna Museet, Stockholm (1961), signaled his critical success as an abstract expressionist painter and collagist. 

In 1957, Leslie began a series of "mug-shots," close-up, Polaroid headshots of studio visitors that eventually numbered several hundred. Acclaimed for Pull My Daisy (1959), the quintessential Beat Generation movie that he co-adapted, directed and photographed with Robert Frank, the artist made several films in the early sixties, including animations and a collaboration with poet Frank O'Hara. Leslie's The Hasty Papers (1960), a radical literary and political tabloid he edited and published with contributions by Kerouac, Ginsberg, Sartre, Genet among others.

Abstract and figurative elements coexisted in his paintings of 1962-63 which were no longer expressionist; in 1963 he began a signature series of influential Grisaille portraits executed in a cool, hyper-realist style. These, as well as his earlier photographic "mug shots" would influence the practice of the young Chuck Close. On October 17, 1966 a devastating fire destroyed his studio along with two decades of his art and documentation; not only did he loose his film masters and equipment but also fifty to sixty Grisaille paintings and drawings awaiting curatorial review for an upcoming solo show at the Whitney Museum, a show subsequently cancelled.

From then on, Leslie has, in his description, lived "two lives at the same time," making new work and reconstructing the chronology of the lost work. From 1966 to 1981 Leslie created The Killing Cycle, a suite of canvases and drawings triggered by the death of Frank O'Hara in a July 1966 automobile accident. In 1976 the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston organized a traveling retrospective of his paintings. A landscape series, 100 views Along the Road: The Water Colors of Alfred Leslie, toured nationally in 1986. The Tribeca Film Festival, the London Film Festival, and the Vienna International Film Festival all featured The Cedar Bar (2001), a film that he first scripted in 1952. He received a Lifetime Achievement award from The Chicago Underground Film Festival in 2003; The American Academy of Arts and Letters honored Leslie with awards in 1971 and 1994, electing him to membership in 2006. In this year he received an honorary doctorate from Concordia University, Montreal. Alfred Leslie is represented by Ameringer & Yohe Fine Art, New York, which presented "The Radical Theater of Alfred Leslie" in 2007 and will show his multi-panel paintings of the fifties [Feb. 26-Apr. 4, 2009]; In Spring 2009, Frank Pages Galerie, Baden-Baden, Germany will show a selection of his paintings from the seventies and eighties.


Slought regrets to announce that the Alfred Leslie exhibition has been indefinitely postponed.