Rare acquisition unveiled at Islington Museum as LGBT History Month begins

  • 31 January 2017

Kenneth Halliwell’s collage World of Cats has gone on public display for the first time, after being acquired with our support.

A rare collage by Kenneth Halliwell, the partner of playwright Joe Orton, has been acquired by Islington Council, following support from an anonymous donor and Art Fund. It goes on public display for the first time this week as part of the borough’s LGBT History Month.

The five-and-a-half-foot, four-panel screen is decorated with a collage of cats and is known simply as World of Cats. It was created in 1966 by Halliwell, who lived with Orton in Noel Road, Islington, between 1959 and 1967.

It was during this time that Halliwell and Orton notoriously defaced books from Islington libraries, and then returned them after pasting in pictures of male nudes, toys, and birds, along with salaciously re-written copy. They were eventually caught and imprisoned for six months for theft and ‘malicious damage’. It is thought their sentence was in part so harsh because of their homosexual relationship, which was illegal at the time. The defaced book jackets are now seen as subversive art in their own right and are permanently kept at Islington Museum.

Following the deaths of Orton and Halliwell in 1967, the screen was acquired by Peggy Ramsay, Orton’s literary agent, whose estate donated it to a charity auction in 1999 where it was purchased by a private collector. Last year the one-off piece was bought by the council at a public sale, with our assistance and an anonymous donation, for £8,000.

Stephen Deuchar, Art Fund director, said: ‘This is a clever coup by Islington Council – a great work with a rich context. Art Fund was really pleased to be of help in securing an unusual and excellent new acquisition for London’s public to enjoy.’

The work and exhibition can be seen at Islington Museum until 13 March 2017.

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