Tuesday, July 14, 2015

Mason Williams | Bus

Mason Williams
Beverly Hills, USA: Blockbuster Bus Company, 1967
3.14 x 11.02 m.
Edition of 200 numbered copies

Mason Williams is best known as the composer and performer of the Grammy-winning instrumental hit "Classical Gas", from 1968. He was also a comedy writer, who contributed to the Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, and Saturday Night Live. Williams also published several artist's books and was close friends and roommates with Ed Ruscha, who designed the cover of his Music LP. The pair also collaborated on Ruscha's books Crackers and Royal Road Test (Williams threw the typewriter from the car).

This could be why his incredible example of 'size-as' photography has been received as both an art work and a prank. It was featured as the backdrop to performances on The Smothers Brothers show, and in a LIFE magazine article, but also at the Pasadena Art Museum, and more recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art, as part of the Artists' Gifts show. It was also featured on the cover of The Mason Williams Phonograph Record, the LP where "Classical Gas" first appeared.

Williams remembers flipping through a magazine in 1967 and seeing a small photograph of a Greyhound and being struck by how readily we accept scale shifts in photography. He wondered what it would be like to flip through a book and discover a life-size image of a bus.

"I was going to make it as a book, 37 feet by 11 feet," he told an audience at MoCA in 2007, in his first ever artist-talk, "but I couldn't figure out how to fold it. I would've had to have been an origami master to figure that out, so it just ended up being a one-sheet in a box."

Williams hired photographer Max Yavno to shoot the bus on a 4 x 5 negative and had a Florida company print it on billboard paper, in sixteen segments. When the delivery arrived it weighed "2,200 pounds" and he had to hire a forklift to move it into his garage.

The taping of the sixteen sections into one large image was originally attempted at a tennis court belonging to the actor Dennis Weaver. Williams swept the court and laid the paper flat, but a gust of wind blew it up against the fence (hence the warning on the side of the box). He discovered that the only place large enough to collate the works were television sound stages. He convinced CBS to allow him to use their stage early in the morning, before the day's productions began.

The work was packaged in a beautifully designed cardboard clamshell box and weighed over ten pounds, giving the piece a sculptural presence. Ten fewer than the planned 200 were produced, as several were damaged during production. They originally retailed for $35 and currently the only copy listed at ABE.com is selling for $12,500.00 US., about the price of buying an actual 1967 Greyhound bus, I suspect.

The boxes of existing copies tend to be well worn, but often the poster inside is pristine. Artist Michael Asher donated his copy to the Museum of Contemporary Art, having never opened it in the many years he owned it, finding it satisfaction enough “just knowing that I had a bus in a box.”


"Actual size photograph of an Actual bus.
10 ft. 3 1/2 in. x 36 ft. 2 in.)
Weighs 10 pounds, 7 ounces.
Conceived by Mason Williams.
Photograph by Max Yavno.
Enlargement made from a 16x20 print of a 4x5 negative. Printed on billboard stock in 16 sections by silk screen process. Printed by The Benline Process Color Company of Deland, Florida and Pacific Display of Los Angeles, Califfornia. [sic] Hand collated, rolled and transported early in the morning by three people (two men and one woman) in one car over a period of several days. Each copy individually hand assembled by three people, using hands, feet, tape sissors [sic] and a Barlow knife. Assembled with 120 ft. (per copy) of Scotch Brand double-faced tape (No. 666).

Folded by hand and foot by three people.

Assembled and folded quietly on television sound stages on Saturday mornings in Los Angeles, Califfornia [sic]. Assembly time, nine man hours per copy."

1 comment:

  1. My father Robert J Willis designed the Bus Box