18 December 2017

Sex, Drugs and Rock 'n' Roll

From the Pyrex lab equipment that synthesised the first ever MDMA and a copy of Pitigrilli’s Kokain (Cocaine) annotated by Adolf Hitler, to a grapefruit emblazoned with a birthday message and gifted from Keith Richards to Ronnie Wood – Julio Santo Domingo boasts quite the archive of bizarre belongings. The new book Altered States shares the stories of select pieces of the collection, which is on an unimaginable scale, filling nearly three terraced houses. Whilst dots were planted in the form of sex, rock ’n’ roll, black magic and high literature, the permanent marker that joined them all together was his infactuation with drugs and how they effect the broader cultural landscape.

Julio Santo Domingo Jr. was the firstborn son of Colombian patriarch Julio Mario Santo Domingo Pumarejo – a man valued in his day at 8.5 billion dollars. Like his father (and his grandfather before that), Santo Domingo Jr. was one of the richest, most powerful people in Colombia and naturally, such a lineage meant all manner of obligation was thrust upon him. Unfortunate given that what he actually wanted to be was a modern day Rimbaud and a literary beatnik.

Santo Domingo was constantly travelling and wherever he went he acquired books and objects. He would buy from vendors along the Seine banks, from hippie dealers in California, bohemian Parisian collectors of old posters, gallery owners, retro soft porn distributors in Lyon, specialists in psychedelia in Greenwich Village, the coolest shops in Notting Hill, from the basement sellers of beat books as well as the big auction houses of the Western world.

Santo Domingo’s collection contained work by diverse figures and friends including Andy Warhol, Timothy Leary, Sigmund Freud, the Marquis de Sade, Charles Baudelaire, Allen Ginsberg, the Rolling Stones, Aleister Crowley, and many, many more. Shedding light on an often misunderstood force in history, author Peter Watts waded through the whole collection and created Altered States – an unprecedented insight into the effect of drugs on life, art, science, politics and popular culture.

The French businessman believed that the altered states of consciousness experienced while dreaming, listening to music, using drugs, during hypnosis or while having sex, were all ways to push the boundaries of the mind and stretch its capabilities. The wide and varied spectrum with which Santo Domingo cultivated his taste for counterculture reflected his ability to combine pieces of the highest cultural category, with those more trivial popularist nature. His eye for the absurd and curatiorial know-how has lead to a collection that boasts such variation and depth that it arguably defines this century as well as anything else can.

Below, I've listed a few of my favourite items featured in the book...

A grapefruit gifted to Ronnie Wood from Keith Richards with "Happy Birthday Ron" scrawled on it. Richards used it instead of wrapping paper to conceal the ring he was giving to Woods as a birthday present

A "Homemade Drug Kit" containing thirty-eight implements, including pins, razor blades, a hash pipe, a roach clip, sniffing straws, snorters, and a coke spoon

A Polaroid of artist Jean-Michel Basquiat taken shortly before his death from a heroin overdose in 1988

A selection of undipped LSD blotter art, the sheet on the right featuring a portrait of Timothy Leary

The Pyrex lab equipment used to make the first ever MDMA in Alexander Shulgin's laboratory in California. On Shulgin's own drug-rating scale, he rated MDMA as no higher than a "low-calorie martini"

A box of birthday and Valentine's Day cards sent by fans to the Who drummer Keith Moon. One message read: “Don’t know what I’m doing writing to the drummer of the Who but I’m hoping to get even a short letter back. I think you guys are just too much.”

A Rolling Stones pinball machine that belts our their most iconic tunes

Cocaine vials that were produced by Parkes Davis, who paid Freud to endorse their cocaine in 1885

Allen Ginsberg’s hat, signed on the interior
Junkie: Confessions of an Unredeemed Drug Addict by William Lee