Review by Emma Crawley
The current exhibition at Sprüth Magers, a small gallery tucked away in the West End amid the jewellery shops and designer boutiques of New Bond Street, features the work of filmmaker and artist Kenneth Anger. Anger, who’s seemingly rock star name is in fact a pseudonym (he was born Kenneth Anglemeyer), has been making films since the 1940s and been a monumental force in avant-garde cinema, influencing contemporary film directors such as David Lynch.
Prior to entering the gallery space the visitor is presented with a striking neon sign, a fashionable and recognisable trademark of many contemporary artists. The sign, taking on the shape of a pair of lips, reads ‘Hollywood Babylon’ (1975/2000) and serves as an exploration of the antics and tales of Hollywood’s history, a topic which is of particular fascination to Anger.
Inside the gallery, one is transported from the slick glamour of the West End in to an unsettling and almost otherworldly space. The gallery walls have been painted top to toe in a metallic silver paint and a jarring, repetitive noise echoes throughout. What can be heard is in fact the synthesised soundtrack to Anger’s 1969 film ‘Invocation of my Demon Brother’, which was produced by none other than Mick Jagger. The film, projected on the main wall in the gallery, is a kaleidoscope of fragmented and highly manipulated images, referencing the hallucinogenic culture of the late 1960s and ‘70s. Yet something darker is undoubtedly explored here, and Anger takes on themes of the occult, ritual and the devil, combined with disjointed shots of a US military helicopter offloading troops in Vietnam. The dark imagery and the disturbing soundtrack create a Hitchcock-esque tension, while techniques such as doubling and the focus on the eye as a symbol expose the influence of Surrealism.
This influence can also be found in the back room of the gallery, which contains seven vibrant stills taken from a number of Anger’s other abstract films. One of these taken from his 1954 ‘Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome’ shows an attractive femme fatale who has been hemmed in by a cage around her head, an instantly reminder of Man Ray’s caged mannequins. Other stills feature green faced men and clawed women; these are undoubtedly creatures that inhabit another land. The most telling image is perhaps a still taken from Anger’s epic film ‘Lucifer Rising’ (1970-1981). Here, we see the name of the devil emblazoned across a retro jacket, revealing the artist’s penchant for critiquing Hollywood through his references to pop culture alongside all things ‘occult’.
Anger’s fascination with Hollywood is fully exposed in a display of images just outside the gallery space, featuring photographs of glamorous actresses such as Greta Garbo and Joan Crawford. These glossy images, taken from the artist’s own personal collection, reveal just how far Anger has been influenced by old Hollywood. He removes the slick ideals of typical Hollywood films out of context in his work and manipulates them into a mystical and powerful critique.
Sprüth Magers London is delighted to present an exhibition of work by the legendary filmmaker and artist Kenneth Anger, in his first solo show in London for five years. Making films continuously since the late 1940s and considered a countercultural icon, Kenneth Anger is widely acclaimed as a pioneering and influential force in avant-garde cinema. His groundbreaking body of work has inspired cineastes, filmmakers and artists alike. Many channels of contemporary visual culture, from queer iconography to MTV, similarly owe a debt to his art.
The exhibition will feature his seminal 1969 film Invocation of My Demon Brother. This work, a hypnotic montage of jarringly edited images, shifting intense colours and symbols with a repetitive synthesised soundtrack by Mick Jagger, is typical of Anger’s sinister and subversive aesthetic. The aim of Anger’s subliminal techniques is to get through to ‘the great Collective Unconsious’ and evoke the idea of an alternative reality, which, in turn, adds to the viewers’ anxiety. The claustrophobic setting and 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 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 erstwhile Lucifer, who was convicted of murdering the musician Gary Hinman, alongside the infamous Charles Manson, in 1970. The film’s intense torrent 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.
Anger’s playful neon sign Hollywood Babylon (1975/2009) 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.