Really, in the end, or rather right here at the beginning, it would be accurate to call Viktor Wynd the most interesting man in England; for here is someone entirely imaginary, strictly fictional, yet enormously physically real, a huge, towering giant bearded embodiment of Anglo-Saxon meaty being, who has single-handedly magicked into existence the most unusual museum in all of Christendom, a fatal lure for every crusading lover of olde curiosite, disciple of oddity.
Oh, today so little true mystery remains, blame our giant blinking banks of search-engines mining data day and night, our little hand-held algorithms that instantly answer every imaginable question- yet Wynd has somehow managed to remain a genuine enigma. It may be certain that this is not his only name and who dares know his true nomenclature nor age, where he comes from, who he is, or why, the origin of this species, education, breeding, lineage, escutcheon even, “the Somerset Wynds?” No, all is zero, dark as a Limehouse night.
But what we do know is that the Viktor Wynd Museum of Curiosities, Fine Art & UnNatural History, established in 2014 and based in the cruel heart of Hackney, the epicenter of the East End, is the most improbable and enjoyable of experiences, a tiny portal in a still relatively insalubrious row of shops, allowing one to enter this veritable kingdom of marvels. It is crammed to the rafters with madness and daring, dark and full and fascinating, impossible, and indispensable as a dispensary. To quote its founding declaration, ‘this museum will merely display everything that has glittered & caught the eye of its founder – from rare priceless marvels of the natural and scientific worlds like Dodo Bones or speculum to the intriguing beauty of McDonald’s Happy Meal Toys, from old master etchings to prison inmates & mad women’s doodles, occultists paintings and pop art prints, the horrors and wonders of nature, two-headed kittens and living coral.’
There is nowhere else like this, not on the ocean lashed final salty pier of Coney Island nor bunkers of Tasmania, a place to get regally smashed on illegal absinthe, for they serve it here in secret from their ancient bar, whilst admiring the sheer perversity of the owner’s artifacts, the sheer range of peculiarity Wynd has hoarded to himself over the difficult decades. Herewith the gloaming can be found some and all of the following; taxidermied goat, radioactive seashells, a horse’s stomach infected by botflies, extinct birds, a potentially human sarcophagus, a gold-plated hippopotamus skull once belonging to cocaine czar Escobar, a cyclops brain, jars with the ‘preserved front bottoms of Victorian prostitutes’, a lock of King Elvis’s hair and actual works of art by such randomly esteemed figures as Mervyn Peake, Stephen Tennant, Jeff Koons, and Tracey Emin.
Rightly enough it is hardly surprising that thousands of spellbound fans have made this journey into the heart of Hackney to get drunk and revel in the Wyndian inner-world, not to mention regular visits from every sort of willing celebrity whether writers such as Günter Grass and Jose Saramago, filmmaker Alejandro Jodorowsky or even Stephen Hawking lui-même; and equally impressive one might mention le tout gratin of rock’n’roll aristocracy from Prince to Bowie who all flocked here as if hypnotized by a fellow miracle; for to quote the aforementioned Thin White Duke, who used to call Mr. Wynd regularly for late-night confabulation, ‘every time I feel fascination I just can’t stand still, I’ve got to use her, fascination moves sweeping near me, fascination takes a part of me.’
This all, and more, so much more, is captured and elucidated in a beautiful new book just published by Prestel, which not only boasts a lavish hardback binding and fantastical full-color full-page photographs but more importantly a revelatory text by the Wynd itself. This is the third book created by Wynd, following on from his slim and extremely rare collection of poems and drawings entitled Gently Perverted and, also handsomely published by Prestel, his eponymous Cabinet of Wonders rightly hailed by movie mogul John Waters as ‘an insanely delightful how-to guide on becoming a mentally-ill hoarder.’
But Wynd has, despite or perhaps thanks to being so imaginary a spirit, already done many many things in his manifold lives, more than several of them in defiance of our prissy rules and regulations, our social codes, no more fearing the illegal than the dangerous. Perhaps the easiest way to understand his existence and intention is to see it as a long-running highly ambitious conceptual art project, the self-creation of a personality, ‘the Wynd’, regardless of the usual rules of chronology and factual identity, some ultimate meta-fiction.
Utterly his own man, somehow Wynd managed to make his way from bosky Oxfordshire to the throbbing slums of Tampa (of which one is always tempted to paraphrase Miller’s Quiet Days in Clichy and suggest instead Light Days in Tampa) where he enrolled as a hardworking student at the University of South Florida. Indeed it was thanks to the highly prestigious fellowship set up by the leading pop artist James Rosenquist that Wynd was thus lured west and soon found himself – in every sense – as a cerebral soi-disant ‘conceptual’ artist, industriously producing his first cultural objets, not least, like a resplendent North American butterfly from a shy Anglo-Saxon pupae… himself!
Could anyone have suspected back in this Floridian art school that the newly minted Wynd would one day create his empire of oddity and crown himself the strangest of all denizens of London’s deepest east end? Curiously enough, having fled extremely west as a student and lingered in sweaty Tampa until the ripe age of 28 Wynd has subsequently committed himself to head further and further east as if sprung from some foreign catapult, and now found himself like some demonic gentleman farmer in furthest Suffolk, the ultimate edge of England, busy growing dangerous plants and making frightening figurines worthy of some Arthur Machen latter-day ritual in the potting shed.
Kissed by genius, the Wyndian curriculum vitae includes everything from studying Francophile civilization at the Sorbonne to slaving away like some latter-day Hakim Bey on the more obscure areas of Islamic heresy, not to mention a series of one-man sell-out shows with such memorable titles as ‘Why I Think I’m So Fucking Special -It’s All About Me’ and ‘The Sorrows of Young Wynd.’ But tiring of the obligations of self-promotion the maestro maverick turned to larger ambitions than creating mere art things.
Nursing the networked ego of the true entrepreneur Wynd became chancellor of a metaphysical organization entitled ‘The Last Tuesday Society’ and as such launched some spectacular and highly publicized events; these included a series of masquerade balls attended by over 6,000 people, complete with naked orchestras and golden youth, culminating in an immortal summer ball called Wyndstock which took over every crevice of Houghton Hall, one of Britain’s grandest stately homes indeed once the berth of that country’s first prime minister Mr. Walpole.
Eccentricity is, of course, the ghastly curse of such figures as Wynd, especially should they happen to hail from England; there are many nobler words to choose to describe so protean and perverse a personality and yet the endlessly renewable cliché of the ‘Eccentric Englishman’ ( an ‘EE’ worthy of the poet Cummings) seems impossible to overcome or firmly replace. Like Alastair Crowley, who only managed to overcome the selfsame accusations of eccentricity by creating instead the equally alliterative yet far more potent label of ‘the wickedest man in the world’, doubtless, it will take murder or narcotic imbroglio for Wynd’s true stature to be rescued from slapdash journalese.
Lovingly produced by Prestel with a delicious deep red spine, this latest hefty volume in the Wynd bibliography should add a massive dollop of gravitas to the man’s standing; most importantly it will let people realize just what a good writer he is, an autobiographical wizard, especially when he deals so elegantly, even amusingly, with that black dog of depression which has so long run alongside him, dark double of his manic creativity, whose central place in his life he here acknowledges with a weary grace. There are also wonderful color photographs by the ace Oskar Proctor, worth the price of admission in themselves, as well as many dazzling drawings by ‘Theatre of Dolls’, a somewhat Swedish collaborative duo whose graphic genius is here given happy reign.
Last but altogether least this book will provide a sort of ‘portable Wynd’ for those who have not the time nor sizzle to dare venture forth themselves to delve into the physical reality of his Unnatural History Museum. One of the nicest features of this tome is the way it concludes with a random list of Wynd’s favorite museums around the globe (a startling omission for a onetime Floridian being the one-man Wolfsonian of Miami) all of which sound as pregnantly peculiar as his own establishment. Yes, slap down your bargain £35 for this beautiful book but more importantly gird your loins and head down to Mare Street to treat yourself to a lethal and illegal cocktail at the final headquarters itself of all such vast Wyndiana.