Jonas Mekas: The life of a happy man

On the eve of his 90th birthday, the Lithuanian artist conforms his unprecedented freshness: transforming the whole of the Serpentine Gallery into his editing suite, Mekas creates enchantment for the eyes and for the heart.

A magnificent conspiracy by followers of Lithuanian artist Jonas Mekas in the context of contemporary art has allowed his images to make yet another appearance. While in Paris the Centre Pompidou presents one of the most extensive retrospectives ever put together on Mekas, Pip Chodorov puts into print with Paris Experimental the first complete catalogue of the artist's work — J.M.: Films, Videos, Installations 1962-2012 .

In Paris, Agnès B opens the doors of the Galerie du Jour for Mekas, presenting the emotional years of his arrival in New York after the war; and in London, Hans Ulrich Obrist presents a world preview of the film Outtakes From the Life of a Happy Man (a pivotal work in the history of cinema), handing over the keys to the entire Serpentine Gallery to this irrepressible prodigal child, transforming it into the editing suite of one of the most interesting living visual artists.



Who can challenge the cultural agitator of the Beat Generation, friend of Robert Frank, accomplice to Yoko Ono, one of the most extraordinary portraitists of Andy Warhol, an absolute legitimacy in the field of exhibitions? Mekas, the great cultivator such as errant figures such as Ryokan, migrates — O winters! —, takes his films into a gallery and confirms once more their unprecedented freshness. He doesn't allow himself to be intimidated by classification and fills the spaces of this prestigious London institution with a series of video installations and film stills.
Top: Jonas Mekas. Photo by Liz Wendelbo. © Jonas Mekas. Above: left, Jonas Mekas, <em>Walden</em>, 1969, <em>Window flower</em>, 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas. Right, Jonas Mekas, <em>This Side of Paradise</em>, 1999. The Kennedy family on their holiday in Montauk, New York, 1972. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas
Top: Jonas Mekas. Photo by Liz Wendelbo. © Jonas Mekas. Above: left, Jonas Mekas, Walden , 1969, Window flower , 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas. Right, Jonas Mekas, This Side of Paradise , 1999. The Kennedy family on their holiday in Montauk, New York, 1972. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas
There is a particular grace in the manner in which Mekas succeeds in transfiguring the souvenir photo, the family album, as can be seen immediately from the start of the exhibition. Here, the artist disturbs his viewers with the series Reminiscences of Germany , bringing together images from the period between 1945 and 1949, but in a Mekas exhibition, every moment is precious. The artist enchants us with the delicious Lavender piece, amuses himself by publishing the limited edition artist book Holy Fools , and knows how to reawaken the memory of the London he already filmed so well in the 1970s. It is no surprise that so many young artists — from Harmony Korine to Koo Jeong-A, from Isaac Julien to Nelson Bourrec Carter — turn to Mekas's filmmaking to see clearly what is to come. However, Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man is the main event, coinciding with the artist celebrating his ninetieth birthday on Christmas Eve.
Jonas Mekas, <em>Award Presentation to Andy Warhol</em>, 1964, at Andy Warhol's Factory. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas
Jonas Mekas, Award Presentation to Andy Warhol , 1964, at Andy Warhol's Factory. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas
One might say that the freedom of being human cannot be understood if one has not seen at least one of Mekas's films during one's life. Every detail of our days is enriched with incomparable beauty when one enters into the magical world of this artist. Turning a somersault, eating an egg, sitting beside him in slow-motion, where entire reels evoke memories or reverse time. With this latest masterpiece Mekas attempts — and succeeds in his attempt — of an incredible operation, that neither Antonioni nor Renoir managed to do: taking filmed material excluded from his films from the 1950s onwards, Mekas fills it with unsettlement and wonder, putting together in 16-millimetres a "film-memory" of disconcerting beauty. It all happens as if by magic: shards and fragments, the shreds and smithereens of a great battle are put together, and an entire world comes to life. Every single sequence shines out unforgettably, however many times you see and listen to the piece. Sounds and words rock us like a ride around a park, an bitten apple, a reel that reaches its end, the girl's eyes or the snowed upon world.
One might say that the freedom of being human cannot be understood if one has not seen at least one of Mekas's films during one's life. Every detail of our days is enriched with incomparable beauty when one enters into the magical world of this artist
Left, Jonas Mekas, <em>From In Between</em>, 1978. Mekas and Salvador Dalí during one of Dalí's happenings, l964. © Jonas Mekas. Right, Jonas Mekas, <em>As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty</em>, 2000. 16 mm film, sound, colour, 285 min. © Jonas Mekas
Left, Jonas Mekas, From In Between , 1978. Mekas and Salvador Dalí during one of Dalí's happenings, l964. © Jonas Mekas. Right, Jonas Mekas, As I was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty , 2000. 16 mm film, sound, colour, 285 min. © Jonas Mekas
Extraordinarily striking is the connection that Mekas manages to weave between the figure of the artist-poet and representation. Reinventing the word naïveté in an extraordinarily simple relationship with his own self, Mekas causes the unwieldy presence of the subject to disappear and be transformed into dramatic lightness. This is enchantment for the eyes and for the heart; and the joy is extended with the upcoming DVD release of a wider series of his past films by Potemkine and Re:voir , enhancing the selection that was previously available. Federico Nicolao
Left, Jonas Mekas, <em>Happy Birthday to John</em>, 1996. John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Museum of Syracuse, 1971. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas. Right: Jonas Mekas, <em>He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life</em>, 1969/1985. Caroline Kennedy in Chinatown, New York, 1972. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas
Left, Jonas Mekas, Happy Birthday to John , 1996. John Lennon and Yoko Ono at the Museum of Syracuse, 1971. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas. Right: Jonas Mekas, He Stands in a Desert Counting the Seconds of His Life , 1969/1985. Caroline Kennedy in Chinatown, New York, 1972. 16mm film. © 2012 Jonas Mekas
Left, Jonas Mekas and brother Adolfas at the Film-Makers' Cooperative, 1962. © Jonas Mekas. Right, Jonas Mekas with his Bolex in Lithuania, 1971. © Jonas Mekas
Left, Jonas Mekas and brother Adolfas at the Film-Makers' Cooperative, 1962. © Jonas Mekas. Right, Jonas Mekas with his Bolex in Lithuania, 1971. © Jonas Mekas
Jonas Mekas, <em>There is No Ithaca</em>, Black Thistle Press, 1996. Photo by Jonas Mekas © 2012 Jonas Mekas
Jonas Mekas, There is No Ithaca , Black Thistle Press, 1996. Photo by Jonas Mekas © 2012 Jonas Mekas

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