Quincunx

1985

Handmade book pamphlet. 24 pages. Limited edition of 50 copies, numbered and signed.

Prospectus fait à la main avec jaquette en coton ornée de lettrage estampé en feuille d’argent. Édition limitée de 50 exemplaires numérotés et signés.

Creator
Unni Magnuson
Source
private collection
Publisher
U. I. Vasty
Pseudonym
U.I. Vasty
Region
Size
12.7cm W x 18.7cm L x 0.9cm H
Material
Handmade pamphlet with cotton rag jacket and foil-stamped lettering
Quincunx cover
Quincunx title page

Description/physicality of the document: Small handmade book (4.75” x 7”), pamphlet stitched with handmade cotton rag jacket and foil-stamped lettering. 24 pages. Numbered edition of 50, signed and numbered by the author. Editions 1 – 5 appear to be almost untouched, thought to have been in storage since the author’s death in 1994, and possibly earlier. Numbers 11 – 50 were thought to be distributed to the author’s friends and lovers in New York. Numbers 6 – 10 are unaccounted for.

Biographical Details about the fake Author: The author is purported to be that of Unni Magnuson, who visited New York in 1982-3 from Norway to stay with her cousin Ann Magnuson. Ann Magnuson was a performance artist and manager of Club 57, in New York City from the late ‘70’s into the early ‘80’s. Regulars of Club 57 (in the basement of the Holy Cross Polish National Church in the East Village) included such fledgling artists and musicians as Keith Haring, Fab Five Freddy, Eszter Balint, Madonna, John Sex, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. Unni Magnuson, mother of three young children, had recently suffered a mental breakdown in Norway and left her children in the care of her husband and his family, and had come to stay with Ann, who she had never spent any significant time with, for the summer. She ended up extending her trip to last six months. Prior to getting married, Unni had been a painter, although of a very different kind than the likes that she met in New York; she attended a traditional fine arts academy in Oslo and painted what Ann described as ‘flowers, landscapes and people sitting still,’ and was also adept at traditional Norwegian folk arts – knitting, crochet, embroidery, sewing. Unni stopped painting altogether when she had children, and purportedly had always wanted to be a poet (though there is no sign that she wrote any poetry prior to coming to New York). Many people from the downtown art scene described her simply as ‘Ann’s cousin from Norway’ and remembered her as quiet and somewhat conservative– clearly an outsider in the wild, experimental, high, pre-AIDS, pre-fame days of Club 57, where Ann put on events such as Erotic Day-Glo art shows, Putt-Putt Reggae Night (miniature golf played on a course made of refrigerator boxes) and Model World of Glue Night (where New York's hippest built airplane and monster models, burned them, and sniffed the epoxy) – but though she retained a quiet air, she also had a strange sex appeal that no one could quite name (she wasn’t particularly beautiful, nor did she have a colourful or charismatic personality – and yet many of her lovers (purported to have been male, female, gay and bi) describe Unni as having an inexplicable and powerful erotic draw. Heresay provoked by the book revealed that she may have had a more exhaustive roster of lovers than anyone in the downtown art scene.

Details about its historical context or reception. Any critical commentary/reviews the work has received that you know of: Almost a year after Unni left New York, a box arrived in the mail to Ann containing the 30 books. They were circulated to regulars of Club 57 (sadly recently closed), and became a source of great titilation, even amongst the raunchy and promiscuous salon de refuse art scene. The book became something of an underground sensation and coveted cult item (of which there were not enough to go around) of the who’s who of the downtown art scene, intimately described in sex.

Many of the people Unni is said to describe in Quincunx went on to become very famous (most notably Madonna, Basquiat, Keith Haring and Fab Five Freddy), but at the time they all enjoyed a great deal of fame amongst each other, banded together in a rejection of the dominant uptown Modernist art scene, and this book was a yearbook of sorts for a time that would quickly come to an end as AIDS, fame and drug addiction took many of the key figures.

Biographical details of the “real” author behind the fake; the circumstances that might have led the author of the fake to produce the object or document; the circumstances surrounding publication: Unni’s decision to publish the poems under the name U.I. Vasty was probably partly a joke she knew her lovers would get, and the gender-ambiguous quality of largesse in the name also seems to reflect the raunchy artistic and sexual freedom that Unni discovered during her time in New York. More seriously, however, in the event that the book found its way to larger audiences than intended, Unni was certainly also protecting herself and her family; though some of her infidelity eventually came out, the extent of her American adventures was not known to her husband until many years after her death.

Little is known about Unni Magnuson after her return to Norway, except that it seems she never came back to New York. According to her children, she did paint and write poetry, but never publicly exhibited or published during her lifetime. Tragically, Unni died in 1994 of AIDS, which she kept very private (her children nor her husband even knew she was HIV positive until she was close to death, and she never revealed the source, but it is very likely that she contracted it during her time in New York, as many of her partners later died of AIDS in the epidemic that was only beginning and not yet understood (by the medical community let alone the general public) during Unni’s visit.

Her cousin Ann attended Unni’s funeral in Oslo and met her husband and children – then 12, 13 and 15 – for the first time, and maintains a close relationship with them to this day. Unni’s book was seen by the general public for the first time during the Gray Gallery’s exhibition “The Downtown Show: The New York Art Scene, 1974 – 1984” in 2005, and there are rumours that it will be available for the first time in print with Wave Books in 2020. Ann and Unni’s daughter Liv are also working on editing and translating a collection of Unni’s later poetry in Norwegian.

Date