Cookie Mueller & Vittorio Scarpati: Putti’s Pudding
‘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 featured 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 through 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 was 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 become 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 was 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 Richard Turley & 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 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.
This free publication featured both excerpts from Putti’s Pudding and texts by Mueller, including ’Art and About’ and ‘A Last Letter’, which was published in the exhibition catalogue Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing, organised by Nan Goldin at Artists Space, New York, 1989.
- Putti’s Pudding Public Programme
Martin Myrone on Vittorio Scarpati, 28 September 2017
Martin Myrone, Lead Curator of British Art to 1800 at Tate Britain, was invited by Studio Voltaire to discuss the works of Vittorio Scarpati.
Writer Linda Yablonsky discusses Cookie Mueller & Vittorio Scarpati, 30 September 2017 Writer Linda Yablonsky is joined by Paul Pieroni, curator of Putti’s Pudding, to discuss the enduring humour, passion and intensity of Cookie Mueller and Vittorio Scarpati’s works and lives.
Charlie Fox, Fable, 14 October 2017
Fox reads his original short story Fable, which was written especially for this event in response to Mueller’s writings, life and the exhibition.
David Hoyle, RESPONSE, 25 October 2017
Avant–garde cabaret artist David Hoyle presents RESPONSE a new performance in response to Putti’s Pudding and Rainbow Aphorisms.
Alice Butler on Cookie Mueller, 2 November 2017
Writer Alice Butler discusses the work of Cookie Mueller, engaging with the themes of adolescence, personal performance and disease in Mueller’s short stories.
Juliet Jacques, You Will Be Free, 4 November 2017
Writer and filmmaker Juliet Jacques premiered her new film You Will be Free, commissioned in response to Putti’s Pudding, as part of a programme of short films curated by Jacques including works by Ugo Rondinone, Jerry Tartaglia, and B. S. Johnson.
In a special series of readings held weekly throughout the exhibition, artists, activists, writers, academics and performers shared their chosen passages from Cookie Mueller’s collected writings and short stories, including: Dogs I Have Known; Another Boring Day; The One Percent; The Italian Remedy; Go–Going; The Berlin Film Festival; Notes from an American Childhood; The Birth of Max Mueller; Abduction and Rape; John Waters and the Blessed Profession; Sam’s Party; Pink Flamingos; and British Columbia.
A weekly series of screenings throughout the exhibition introduced rarely seen experimental films from queer cinema, documentary works covering both personal loss and responses to the AIDS crisis, and classic John Waters’ cult movies starring Cookie Mueller.Female Trouble (1974) Directed by John Waters
Lightning Over Water (1980) Directed by Nicholas Ray and Wim Wenders
Cancer (2004) Bonnie Camplin
Arena: Putting Ourselves in the Picture – the Work of Jo Spence (London: BBC, 1987) Directed by Ian Potts Multiple Maniacs (1970) Directed by John Waters
United in Anger: A History of ACT UP (2012) Selected by Sarah Schulman
IXE (1980) & La Marche Gaie (1980) Lionel Soukaz
- Bibliography and online resources
BOMB magazine archive
The Simplest Thing, July 1988
The Mystery of Tap Water, July 1983
Theatre, January 1982
A True Story About Two People: Easter 1964, April 1981
Baltimore 1969, October 1982
Brenda Losing/Valerie Losing 2, January 1982
My Bio: Notes on an American Childhood, 1949–1959, January 1985
The Head Gargoyle, April 1983
East Village Eye archive
Fales Library and Special Collections online resource
Serpent’s Tail/High Risk Archives contains manuscripts, newspaper and magazine publications, and drafts of Cookie Mueller’s writings. It also contains personal photographs, drawings, and other materials belonging to Cookie Mueller.
Additional related materials are held at the Fales Library in the following collections:
Richard Hell Papers
Amos Poe Papers
Ira Silverberg Papers
Dennis Cooper Papers
Ron Kolm Papers
Frank Moore Papers
David Wojnarowicz Papers
“Not Only This, But New Language Beckons Us” Exhibition Archive
Sylvere Lotringer Papers and Semiotext(e) Archive
Visit the online archive here.
Cookie Mueller & Vittorio Scarpati Elsewhere
Artists Space, NYC
Between Bridges, Berlin
Mission356 No Credit, Cash Only: Cookie in Film + Video is a visual lecture of images and clips. Presented by Dirty Looks NYC’s Bradford Nordeen.
Kathe Burhart on Cookie Mueller as part of the exhibition Not only this, but New language beckons us at Fales Library and Special Collections, 2013.
Books about Cookie Mueller
Edgewise – a Picture of Cookie Mueller
Art direction & design concept: Chloé Griffin and Gwenaël Rattke.
Publisher: b_books Verlag in Berlin, Germany
Distributor: ARTBOOK | D.A.P. (Distributed Art Publishers)
“Quite possibly the best history of New York’s much-reprised ‘last avant-garde’ of the 1980s, Edgewise reinvents the inspired amateurism of Mueller’s work, and also creates unforgettable portraits of John Waters’s Baltimore and Provincetown in the 1970s, ‘when the water was still clean.’” Chris Kraus, author of I Love Dick and Summer of Hate.
Edgewise tells the story of Cookie’s life in the form of an oral history assembled from more than 80 interviews with the people who knew her, including John Waters, Mink Stole, Gary Indiana, Sharon Niesp, Max Mueller, Linda Yablonsky, Richard Hell, Amos Poe and Raymond Foye. The contributors take us from the late-1960s artist communes of Baltimore to 1970s Provincetown and New York, through 1980s Berlin and Positano.
This book marks the first time Cookie’s full story has been told in any form—whether print, film or online.
Books by Cookie Mueller
How To Get Rid of Pimples. New York: Top Stories, 1984.
Fan Mail, Frank Letters, and Crank Calls. New York: Hanuman Books (no. 15), 1988.
Putti’s Pudding. With illustrations by Vittorio Scarpati. Kyoto: Kyoto Shoin International, 1989. Walking Through Clear Water in a Pool Painted Black. New York: Semiotext(e), 1990.
Garden of Ashes. New York: Hanuman Books (no. 34), 1990.
Ask Dr. Mueller. Edited by Amy Scholder. New York: High Risk Books, 1997.
DRUGS. Cookie Mueller and Glenn Oâ€™Brien. The Kingsboro Press and For The Common Good, 2016.
Baltimore 1964: A True Story About Two People and Provincetown, Massachusetts: A True Story, 1970. In Ferro-Botanica no. 3. NJ: Steel Garden Press, 1982.
Route 95 South-Baltimore to Orlando. In Just Another Asshole #6. Edited by Barbara Ess and Glenn Franca. New York: JAA, 1983.
Baltimore, 1964: A True Story about Two People and Provincetown, Massachusetts, 1970 and British Columbia, 1972 and Andrew: Secrets of the Skinny and Randy Eros, the Sexiest Kid in Town and The Story of Frank the Dog and Frieda Ann the Third. In Wild History. Edited by Richard Prince. New York: Tanarn Press, 1985.
The Truth About the End of the World. In Angle of Repose. Edited by Nancy Peskin. Buffalo, NYI Hallwalls, 1986. [A collection of stories presented during the 1983-84 Fiction-Diction reading series at Hallwalls Gallery, Buffalo, NY]
An Object Too Long Pondered. In Thought Objects: Just Another Asshole #7. Edited by Barbara Ess and Glenn Branca. Buffalo, NY.: CEPA; New York: JAA Press, 1987.
My Bio: Notes on an American Childhood. In Blasted Allegories: An Anthology of Writings by Contemporary Artists. Edited by Brian Wallis. New York: New Museum of Contemporary Art; Cambridge, MA; MIT Press, 1987.
It Happened on the Haight. In Pandemonium 2. Edited by Jack Stevenson. Cambridge, MA Living Color Productions, 1987.
Pink Flamingos. In Spunky International: Translux. Edited by Billy Miller. Independently produced artist book, 1988.
Superior Beings. In Your House is Mine-A Collection of Images and Texts Concerning the Broad and Essential Issue of Housing on the Lower East Side. Edited by Andrew Castrucci and Nadia Corn in conjunction with ACT UP and Bulletspace. New York: Bulletspace, 1989-1991. [Limited edition artist book (150 portfolio copies); a newspaper edition of 10,000 copies based on the artists book was issued in 1993.]
Sam’s Party. In A Day in The Lift: Tales From The Lower East: An Anthology of Writings from the Lower East Side, 1940-1990. Edited by Alan Moore and Josh Gosciak. New York: Evil Eye Book. and Autonomedia, 1990.
Which Came First? In Out World in Anthology of the St. Mark’s Poetry Project 1966-1991, Edited by Anne Waldman. New York: Three Rivers Press, 1st Edition, 1991. New York Crown Publishing Group, 1991.
The One Percent. In High Risk: An Anthology of Forbidden Writings. Edited by Amy Scholder and Ira Silverberg. New York Plume, 1991. Reprint: Serpents Tail, 1991. Hardcover Edition: Dutton Books, 1991. [Translated into Italian: Ad alto rischio. Antologla di seritti proibiti. Translators: M. Garuti and S. Migx. Shake, 1997.]
Goda and other selections from How To Get Rid of Pimples. In Top Top Stories. Edited by Anne Turyn. New York: City Lights Publishers, 1991.
The Italian Remedy–1982 and Ask Dr. Mueller–Brief Tips from Italy (September 1983). In Ten Years After: Naples, 1986-1996. Nan Goldin. Zurich: Scalp Verlag, 1998.
Keep a Few Things in Mind and At the Hour Before Dawn and Those Days and Life Among the Alert of Europe, in collaboration with Richard Hell and H. M. Koutoukas. In Hot and Cold. Richard Hell. New York: powerHouse Books, 2001.
The Birth of Max Mueller. In The Devil’s Playground. Nan Goldin. London: Phaidon Press, 2003.
Excerpt of Art and About from Details magazine (November 1988). In so80’s: A Photographic Diary of a Decade. Edited by Patrick McMullan. New York: powerHouse Books, 2003.
It Happened in the Haight. In The High Times Reader. Edited by Annie Nocenti and Ruth Baldwin. New York: Nation Books, 2004.
Go–Going–New York & New Jersey–1978–79. In Up Is Up, But So Is Down. New York’s Downtown Literary Scene, 1974-1992. Edited by Brandon Stosuy. New York: NYU Press, 2006.
Fleeting Happiness. In The Reader. Edited by Ali Smith. London: Constable, 2006. [Later printed under the title The Book Lover. New York: Anchor Books, 2008.]
Magazines and Journals
A quarterly arts and culture magazine:
“A True Story about Two People, Easter 1964.” Bomb, Spring (1981)
“Theatre,” Bomb, Winter (1981–1982)
“Baltimore 1969.” Bomb, Fall (1982)
“The Head Gargoyle.” Bomb, Spring (1983)
“The Mystery of Tap Water.” Bomb, Summer (1983)
“My Bio: Notes on an American Childhood, 1949–1959.” Bomb, Winter (1985)
“The Simplest Thing.’ Bomb, Summer (1988)
City Lights Review
Literary Journal published by City Lights bookstore, edited by Amy Scholder:
“A Last Letter.” City Lights Review no. 2 (1988)
Published by St Mark’s Poetry Project:
“Go–Going.”, Cuz no. 1 (1988)
“Keep a Few Things in Mind.” Cuz no. 3 (1989)
“Art and About” and ‘Travel Guide Details (August/September 1982– September 1989)
East Village Eye
Monthly magazine of popular and avant garde culture. Cookie worked as contributing editor (1983–1985): “Ask Dr. Mueller.” East Village Eye (October 1982–June 1985)
“Alphaville.” East Village Eye, July (1982)
“Video & Self Image.” East Village Eye, August (1982)
“Film: Geek Maggot Bingo.” East Village Eye, April (1983)
Literary magazine of Catonsville High School, Baltimore, MD:
Short stories and poetry, late ’60s
Monthly magazine Worked as contributing editor (1985–1986):
“High Advisor.” High Times (February 1985–March 1986)
“It Happened in the Haight.” High Times, May (1986)
“Reagan.” 1111th Times, June (1986)
“It Happened in the Haight.” High Times. [Reprint] March (1990)
Literary magazine edited by Danny Shot. Long Shot Productions:
“Ed’s Party—Lower East Side, NYC, 1979.” Long Shot, vol. 5 (1987)
Lo Spazio Umano: Rivista Internationale di Sri–enze Umane, Arte e Letteratura
Quarterly arts magazine edited by Enrico R. Comi
“I Hear America Sinking or A Suburban Girl Who is Naïve and Stupid Finds Her Reward” Lo Spazio Umano: Rivista Internationale di Sneeze Umane, Arte e Letteratura, no. 11, April–June (1984)
“The Mystery of Tap Water.” Lo Spazio Umano: Rivista Internationale di Seienze Umane, Arte e Letteratura, no. 12, July–September (1984)
Saturday Review of Literature
Weekly magazine. Worked as contributing editor (May 1985–June 1986):
“New York City’s 6 Best, Most Undiscovered Artists.” Saturday Review of Literature, July/ August (1985) “Larger Than Life: The World of Robert Longo.” Saturday Review of Literature, November/December (1985)
Soho Weekly News
“Champagne & Cocaine.” Soho Weekly News, May (1981)
A Brussels “tabloid New Wave graphique international”. Edited by Anne Frere, Marc Borgers, Michel Renard, Jean–Louis Sbille:
All You Need is Love issue no, 8/9 (January 1981). John Waters interviewed by Cookie Mueller The World No. 34, 1981. The Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church literary magazine. Edited by Ann Rower “The Third Twin” and “San Francisco, 1967: Near Easter, All True.” The World, No. 34 (1981)
A literary quarterly “Life Among the Alert of Europe,” in collaboration with Richard Hell. Verbal Abuse, no. 1 (1993)
“A Last Letter.” In Witnesses: Against Our Vanishing. AIDS exhibition curated by Nan Goldin at Artists Space (16 Nov. 1989–6 Jan. 1990). Jedd Garet Text for catalogue New York: Totah–Stelling Art, 1985
- Image credit(s)
Cookie Mueller & Vittorio Scarpati, Putti’s Pudding, 2017. Installation view, Studio Voltaire, London. Photo: Andy Keate