Putti’s Pudding

Cookie Mueller & Vittorio Scarpati

‘Putti’s Pudding’ is a book and ‘final project’ by American writer and actor Cookie Mueller, and her husband, Italian artist Vittorio Scarpati. Published in 1989, the same year both died from complications related to AIDS, it pairs drawings by Scarpati with writing by Mueller.

Reimagined as an exhibition, Putti’s Pudding features forty–five original felt–tip pen on notepad drawings made by Scarpati when he lost the ability to speak, accompanying texts by Mueller, and a public programme of talks, readings, screenings and performance.

By the summer of 1989, Vittorio Scarpati was in the final months of his life. As Mueller explains in the introduction to ‘Putti’s Pudding’:

“As I write this, his life more or less hangs in the balance, both his lungs are collapsed, a complication of bouts with the pneumonia specific to AIDS. He’s attached by tubes to two machines called pneumothorax suction pumps. A tube the circumference of an American nickel coin is affixed into a chest incision that goes into the pleural lining of his lungs. Bubbling with water like tropical fish aquariums, these strange looking clear plastic machines drain the excessive fluid from his lungs while also inflating them, thus keeping him breathing. Out of sheer boredom with time passing, Vittorio asked for pens and pads to draw. With his indomitable spirit and vitality he set about rendering his reality though his talent.”

The resulting works tell a moving story, depicting the brutal, uncertain, ghostly nature of living with AIDS in the 1980s. However, Scarpati’s drawings also radiate life. Something accounted for, and indeed celebrated, in Mueller’s accompanying writing.

This will be the first display of Scarpati’s drawings since their inclusion in Nan Goldin’s Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing at Artists Space, New York, (1989), and the first time they have been shown outside of the US. Importantly, the exhibition introduces Scarpati, a still largely unrecognised figure, to international audiences and contributes to the ongoing project of bringing recognition to Mueller’s life and work.

Mueller first came to prominence for her ribald appearances in the early works of provocative filmmaker John Waters, who memorably described Mueller as “a writer, a mother, an outlaw, an actress, a fashion designer, a go–go dancer, a witch–doctor, an art–hag and above all, a goddess.” She went on to became a highly charismatic and influential figure in New York’s downtown scene. She penned a self-help medical column for East Village Eye, while also writing a regular art diary for Annie Flanders’ Details magazine. After her death, Mueller’s stories were published in the now cult Walking Through Clear Water In A Pool Painted Black, 1990. This was the first book published by Semiotext(e)’s Native Agents imprint – a new platform for American fiction edited by Chris Kraus.

Both Mueller and Scarpati were documented prominently during this era by artists such as Gary Indiana, Peter Hujar, Philip Lorca diCorcia and, most notably, Nan Goldin (Cookie Portfolio (1977–1989) and The Ballad of Sexual Dependency (1986)). Goldin has described her compulsion to photograph friends as a way to safeguard or honour them at a time when AIDS was not only untreatable, but patients were actively discriminated against by the government, health commissioners and the press.


This exhibition is curated by Paul Pieroni in partnership with Studio Voltaire.

Lead Supporter: Rick Owens.
Programme Supporters: Stephen & Yana Peel and Pablo Bronstein.

With special thanks to Scott Covert, Philip Lorca diCorcia, Andreas Gegner, Chloe Griffin, John Marchant, Max Wolfe Mueller, Maureen Paley, Charlie Porter, Andrea Rosen, Amanda Sharp, Bill Stelling, Billy Sullivan, John Waters, Linda Yablonsky and The Estate of Cookie Mueller.

About the artists:

Cookie Mueller (1949–1989) was an American writer, actor and ‘Dreamlander’ who starred in many of filmmaker John Waters’ early works, including Multiple Maniacs (1970) and Female Trouble (1974). Mueller wrote the health column Ask Dr. Mueller for the East Village Eye and was the art critic for Details magazine. Her Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black (1990) was the first book published by the Chris Kraus edited Native Agents imprint for Semiotext(e). Mueller died on 10 November 1989. She was 40.

Vittorio Scarpati (1955–1989) was an Italian artist, political cartoonist and jewellery designer. He met Mueller in Positano, Italy, in the summer of 1983. Three years later they married in New York City. Scarpati died on 14 September 1989. He was 34.

Events Programme:

Screening: Female Trouble (1974) Directed by John Waters
Wednesday 20 September 2017, 6:30PM to 8:00PM

When Cookie Mueller was hospitalised for pelvic inflammatory disease in Provincetown, Waters and Mink Stole visited Mueller. “What happened, Cook?” Waters asked. “Just a little female trouble, hon” she replied.

John Waters’ classic trash extravaganza Female Trouble tells the life story of murderous anti-heroine Dawn Davenport, from schoolgirl dropout through to her notorious end in the electric chair. Alongside fellow ‘Dreamlanders’ Divine, Mink Stole and Edith Massey, Cookie takes on one of her most memorable roles as Concetta, Davenport’s equally riotous accomplice.

Tickets £4/ £3 concessions.

Martin Hargreaves, Huw Lemmey & Edward Thomasson read Cookie Mueller
Saturday 23 September 2017, 3:00PM to 4:00PM

For this special event, Martin Hargreaves, Huw Lemmey and Edward Thomasson will read their chosen passages from Cookie Mueller’s collected writings and short stories, including Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls (1988), Garden of Ashes (1990) and How To Get Rid of Pimples (1984).

Many of Mueller’s works are now out of print and difficult to access. This special series of readings celebrates this incredible body of work, and Mueller’s pervading influence and relevance to artists, writers and filmmakers today.

This event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Screening: Lightning Over Water (1980) Directed by Nicholas Ray and Wim Wenders
Wednesday 27 September 2017, 6:30PM to 8:00PM

Lightning Over Water is a collaborative documentary film by Wim Wenders and Nicholas Ray. Filmed in 1979, the work follows Ray during the final stages of terminal cancer. Balancing universal themes of life and death, Wenders’ loving admiration of Ray is clearly evident in this poignant portrayal of his last days.

Tickets £4/ £3 concessions.

Talk: Martin Myrone (Lead Curator British Art to 1800 Tate Britain) explores the work of Vittorio Scarpati
Thursday 28 September 2017, 6:30PM to 7:30PM

In her August 1989 Details column, Scarpati’s wife Cookie Mueller described his work as “a visual narrative that told of deep despair, sadness, and pain, but also hope, happiness, and joy […] a tale of hospital horror, a black comedy”.

This is a unique opportunity to hear Myrone discuss Scarpati’s works in relation to his own research, which has centred on British art of the ‘long’ eighteenth century (c.1650–1850). He has a special interest in the work of Henry Fuseli, William Blake and history painting c.1750–1830, with a particular focus on questions of gender and identity and on the emerging exhibition cultures and art worlds of the period.

At Tate Britain, Myrone’s curated projects including Gothic Nightmares: Fuseli, Blake and the Romantic Imagination (2006), William Blake’s 1809 Exhibition (2009) John Martin: Apocalypse (2011–12) and British Folk Art (2014). In 2010, he curated Tate’s exhibition Rude Britannia: British Comic Art.

The event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Philip–Lorca diCorcia in conversation with Linda Yablonsky
Saturday 30 September 2017, 3:00pm to 4:00pm

Artist Philip–Lorca diCorcia and writer Linda Yablonsky discuss the enduring humour, passion and intensity of Cookie Mueller and Vittorio Scarpati’s works and lives.

A haunting photograph by diCorcia – which pictured Scarpati in the hospice bed where he executed the works exhibited in Putti’s Pudding – was included in the seminal show Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing at Artists Space NYC (1989), alongside one of Scarpati’s own drawings. Yablonsky also contributed a key essay to the exhibition catalogue. Yablonsky and Mueller became close friends as neighbours in the West Village. The character of Honey in Yablonsky’s novel The Story of Junk is loosely based on Mueller.

This event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Artist Juliette Blightman reads Cookie Mueller
Saturday 7 October 2017, 3:00PM to 3:45PM

Juliette Blightman is an artist who lives and works in Berlin. Blightman’s work explores observations of everyday life, interwoven with  personal narratives and intimate portrayals of friends and family. She has recently presented work at South London Gallery, London (2016), Galerie Azzedine Alaïa, Paris (2016), Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe (2015), Eden Eden, Berlin (2015), Karma International, Los Angeles (2015), Pied-à-terre, San Francisco (2015), Forde, Geneva (2015), Cubitt, London (2015), Kunsthaus Bregenz (2014), Artists Space, New York (2014), Essex St, New York (2013), Drawing Room, London (2013), and Museion, Museo di arte moderna e contemporanea, Bolzano (2012).

This event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Screening: Multiple Maniacs (1970) Directed by John Waters
Wednesday 11 October 2017  6:30PM to 8:15PM

John Waters’ darkly comic second feature film is awash with depravity and anarchy, starring Divine in perhaps her most unforgettable role. Produced in Waters’ native Baltimore on a shoe–string budget, ‘Dreamlanders’ (including David Lochary, Mary Vivian Pearce, Mink Stole, Susan Lowe, Edith Massey, George Figgs, and Cookie Mueller) feature as a misfit troupe of circus performers, the Cavalcade of Perversion. Their surreal and shocking tale of murder, robbery and lobster sex is an indisputable cult classic.

Tickets £4/ £3 concessions.

Writer Charlie Fox reads Cookie Mueller
Saturday 14 October 2017, 3:00PM to 4:00PM

Writer Charlie Fox reads a selection of works by Cookie Mueller, including Secrets of the Skinny (1985) edited by Richard Prince, New York: Tanam Press.

Charlie Fox is a writer who lives in London. His work has appeared in publications including frieze, Cabinet, Sight & Sound, ArtReview, The Wire and The White Review. Fox’s book This Young Monster (Fitzcarraldo Editions) was published in 2017. A hallucinatory celebration of artists who raise hell, transform their bodies, anger their elders and show their audience dark, disturbing things, This Young Monster gets high on a whole range of riotous art.

“Good God, where did this wise-beyond-his-years 25-year-old critic’s voice come from? His breath of proudly putrefied air is really something to behold. Finally, a new Parker Tyler is on the scene. Yep. Mr. Fox is the real thing.” — John Waters, New York Times.

The event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Screening: United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012) Selected by Sarah Schulman
Wednesday 18 October 2017  6:30PM to 8:00PM

UNITED IN ANGER: A HISTORY OF ACT UP is a unique feature-length documentary that combines startling archival footage and insightful interviews from the ACT UP Oral History Project to explore ACT UP (the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) from a grassroots perspective.

The film takes the viewer through the planning and execution of a half dozen exhilarating major actions including Seize Control of the FDA, Stop the Church, and Day of Desperation, with a timeline of many of the other zaps and actions that forced the U.S. government and mainstream media to deal with the AIDS crisis.

UNITED IN ANGER reveals the group’s complex culture – meetings, affinity groups, and approaches to civil disobedience mingle with profound grief, sexiness, and the incredible energy of ACT UP.

This film has been selected for screening by Sarah Schulman, a writer and social activist whose influential works include Stagestruck: Theater, AIDS, and the Marketing of Gay America (1998) and The Gentrification of the Mind: Witness to a Lost Imagination (2012).

The event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended

Talk: Alice Butler on Cookie Mueller
Thursday 19 October 2017  6:30PM to 7:30PM

Writer Alice Butler discusses the work of Cookie Mueller, engaging with themes of adolescence, personal performance and disease in Mueller’s short stories. Butler’s talk extends from her extensive research into Mueller’s life and work, and includes archival materials; a screening of Ira Sach’s Last Address; and a public reading of Mueller’s writing.

Alice Butler is a writer based in London, and a PhD researcher in Art History and Visual Studies at the University of Manchester. Her work has been published widely in the art press, including Cabinet, Art Monthly, gorse and Frieze. In 2012, she was the winner of the Frieze Writer’s Prize. Butler has written catalogue essays for artists such as Joanna Rajkowska, Lucy Clout, Marianna Simnett, and Kate Lyddon. In 2015, Butler was Jerwood Visual Arts Writer in Residence, and in 2016 she produced a series of miniature chapbooks for the 2016 Whitstable Biennale.

The event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Juliet Jacques film screenings
Saturday 4 November 2017  5:00PM to 6:00PM

A curated programme of short films selected by writer and filmmaker Juliet Jacques. Jacques has published two books: Rayner Heppenstall: A Critical Study (Dalkey Archive, 2007) and Trans: A Memoir (Verso, 2015). Her short fiction, essays and criticism have appeared in Granta, The Guardian, The White Review, Sight & Sound, Filmwaves, Cineaste, Frieze, London Review of Books and many other publications and websites.

The event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

Curator’s tour with Paul Pieroni
Saturday 11 November 2017  3:00PM to 4:30PM

Curator Paul Pieroni leads a tour of the exhibition Putti’s Pudding. Pieroni will discuss key contexts and narratives within the exhibition, which centres on ‘Putti’s Pudding’, the collaborative artist’s book and ‘final project’ by American writer Cookie Mueller and her partner, Italian artist Vittorio Scarpati. Published in 1989, the same year both died from complications related to AIDS, it pairs drawings by Scarpati with writing by Mueller.

The event is free but due to high demand, booking is recommended.

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