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December 27, 2012

Two London Gallery Shows Surprise

By Maud Doyle | Arts + Culture, Travel

Mekas London Gallery
Photo courtesy of Jonas Mekas

“Memories?” asks Jonas Mekas, the Lithuanian-born, 90-year-old filmmaker from off screen in the opening of Outtakes from the Life of a Happy Man. “They say my images are memories. No, no, no. It is all real, what you see.” Called the “godfather of American avant-garde cinema,” Mekas premiered Outtakes earlier this month at London’s Serpentine Gallery (Kensington Gardens; 44-20/7402-6075; serpentinegallery.org) for his eponymous and long overdue retrospective (on view through January 27, 2013).

Outtakes will unspool alongside six other films and walls of photographs, poems and installations culled from 64 years of work—from the hundreds of binders and boxes that line the walls and windowsills of his New York studio to his thousands of hours of film. “If It Moved, Jonas Mekas Shot It,” read a headline in The Times when the retrospective opened. And he did: John Lennon’s birthday parties, Salvador Dalí’s happenings, friends at dinner, a baptism, a cat.

Over the title card of As I Was Moving Ahead Occasionally I Saw Brief Glimpses of Beauty, he reflects, “I have never been able, really, to figure out where my life begins and where it ends.” A light flashes on and dims in a window. He confesses that he wanted, at first, to make meaning by giving order to the moments he caught, these seemingly random glimpses of lives led. But then, “I gave up. And I began splicing them together by chance, the way I found them on the street.”

Colourscapes at Michael Hoppen Gallery
Photo: Colourscapes, 1993 © Nobuyoshi Araki, courtesy of Michael Hoppen Gallery

A more traditional form of collection is on view at the Michael Hoppen Gallery (3 Jubilee Pl.; 44-20/7352-3649; michaelhoppengallery.com) in “Finders Keepers” (through January 31, 2013), which features three floors of 130 photographs from the private collection of director Hoppen. It is the largest public exhibition the gallery has put on to date. “I found these images in markets, other dealers, auctions, meeting families of photographers and, of course, pure chance,” he explains. They are hung with notes that describe the incidents surrounding their creation (“A large stag hangs outside an ice-cream parlor somewhere in the Midwest”) and the encounters that led Hoppen to find them (“When I took over the lease at 3 Jubilee Place in Chelsea in 1984, I was clearing out an old cupboard there and came across a group of pictures”).

“I am always looking for interesting things to look at,” says Hoppen. “Pictures that change my point of view or inform a particular attitude. For the show I wanted to select mostly unknown pictures.” Some moments in these images are caught at random—a powerful mobster or an image of nude legs in the sun by Jacques Henri Lartigue—but most are artful, staged scenes, like the anonymous portraits of boxers or chimney sweeps and Richard Avedon’s Dovima with Elephants.

There is something delectable about seeing it, the same naughty delight one would get from riffling through the file cabinets of a museum. The show neither fears the grotesque nor disdains beauty, but it delights in surprise: Garry Winogrand’s Park Avenue, New York involves a convertible, a fashionable couple and a monkey.

As Mekas puts it in Outtakes, “I like what I recorded with my camera… Why else would I show it, share it with you? I like these images. This reality of images.”