Sprüth Magers is one of my favourite galleries. Their programming is cutting-edge and contemporary, while encouraging the beat of current debate in the art world, they are never afraid to push the boundaries. I loved David Maljkovic at Sprüth Magers Berlin, which ran until 16 January.
So, I was delighted to see that Sprüth Magers London is showing work by the legendary filmmaker and artist Kenneth Anger (b. 1927), which opens on 19 February and continues until 27 March. This is his first solo show in London since 2005. Anger has been making films continuously since the late 1940s and is considered a counter-cultural icon. He is widely acclaimed as a pioneering and influential force in avant-garde cinema, and his groundbreaking body of work has inspired filmmakers and artists alike. Many channels of contemporary visual culture, from queer iconography to MTV, similarly owe a debt to his art.
The exhibition features his seminal film Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969). This work, a hypnotic montage of jarringly edited images, shifting intense colours and symbols with a repetitive synthesized soundtrack by Mick Jagger, is typical of Anger’s sinister and rebellious aesthetic. The aim of Anger’s subliminal techniques is to get through to ‘the great Collective Unconscious’ and evoke the idea of an alternative reality, which, in turn, adds to the anxiety viewers’ feel.
The setting is claustrophobic while the jagged texture of Invocation seems to parallel the uncertainty of the counterculture at the time. Brief glimpses of the Rolling Stones performing in Hyde Park, in memory of Brian Jones who died in the summer of 1969, darkly presage their notorious concert at Altamont, California later that year, at which Hell’s Angels killed Meredith Hunter. Furthermore, many of the fragmented scenes, which make up the film, feature Bobby Beausoleil, Anger’s former Lucifer, who was convicted of murdering the musician Gary Hinman, alongside the infamous Charles Manson in 1970. The film’s intense surge of images also include a US military helicopter unloading soldiers in Vietnam, the Magnus played by Anger himself performing fevered rituals during a ceremony filmed at the autumn equinox of 1967, flashes of the novel Moonchild (1917) written by the influential occultist Aleister Crowley and brief shots of Marianne Faithfull, Anton LaVey, Keith Richards and Anita Pallenberg.
Kenneth Anger’s work constitutes a radical critique of Hollywood, often evoking and referencing an iconography of contemporary Pop culture within occult settings, and depicting youth counterculture in the midst of ‘magick’ rituals, violence and eroticism. Using a non-narrative style, Anger´s abstract films are highly symbolic and cinematic manifestations of his occult practices, exploring themes of ritualistic transformation. His films are imbued with a baroque splendour stemming from the heightened sensuality of an opulent use of colours and mystic imagery. Devoid of dialogue, the recurrent theme of music is immediately apparent in Anger’s visionary films, which have earned him widespread acknowledgement as the pioneer of MTV and the music video.
Juxtaposed against the hypnotic atmosphere of Invocation, Anger’s neon sign Hollywood Babylon (1975/2009) is prominently featured at the front of the Mayfair Gallery, commanding the viewer’s immediate attention. Anger’s neon is part of a site specific installation exploring the artist’s longstanding fascination with the outrageous antics and sordid tales of old Hollywood detailed in his classic book Hollywood Babylon (1959/1975). Additional exhibition highlights include the photograph Lucifer (Leslie Huggins) taken from Anger’s epic film Lucifer Rising (1970–1981) featuring a further collaboration with Bobby Beausoleil who is unique in being the only musician to score a film while serving a life sentence. Kenneth Anger was born in Santa Monica, California. His most iconic works include the classic Fireworks (1947), Eaux D’Artifice (1953), Rabbit´s Moon (1950-1973), Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954-66), Scorpio Rising (1964), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Lucifer Rising (1970–81).
His work has been featured at the Whitney Biennial 2006, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre, New York in 2009 and the Athens Biennial 2009. He lives and works in Los Angeles.
To coincide with the opening of the exhibition, Sprüth Magers London, in association with the Tate, is proud to present a screening of a number of Anger’s most influential film works, in addition to an artist talk, at the Tate Modern at 7pm on Friday 19 February 2010. Please see the Tate website for more information and tickets Kenneth Anger’s iconic work is concurrently on show at the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival until 28 February 2010.Please see www.jdiff.com for more information and tickets.
To coincide with the AV Festival, a screening of Kenneth Anger’s film work and artist talk will take place at the Tyneside Cinema, Newcastle, at 7pm on Friday 12 March 2010. Please see www.avfestival.co.uk for more information and tickets
Or visit www.spruethmagers.com
Film still of ‘Invocation of My Demon Brother’, 1969
16 mm film
© Kenneth Anger
Courtesy Sprüth Magers Berlin London