Jonas Mekas: Notes from Downtown at James Fuentes Gallery

Art Scene

Jonas Mekas: Notes from Downtown at James Fuentes Gallery

Jonas Mekas’ career as an experimental filmmaker is ever-present in the exhibition, Jonas Mekas: Notes from Downtown, which includes: an unedited, single-take video work, A Walk, shot in 1990; photographic prints made of multiple frames of stills taken from film strips shot in the 1940s and 1970s; and Polaroid photos shot by John Lennon at an informal dinner party in 1971, also attended by Mekas.

Williamsburg, 2018, C-Print, 20 ¾ × 16 ¾ inches (52.71 × 42.55 cm) (framed), Edition of 3 plus II AP

An artist, critic and poet, Mekas was born in Lithuania in 1922. After a period of time in a labor camp and subsequent postwar displacement, Mekas landed in New York in 1949 and soon after acquired a Bolex camera. His style of image making can be characterized as diaristic recordings, work that he defines as both “poetic” and “personal.” In lieu of an approach to displacement that garners an ethos of nostalgia or longing, Mekas seems to have found a home in his ongoing placemaking through film. The photographs on view capture glimpses of his time in Williamsburg, Brooklyn in the 1940s and again in the 1970s; while his 1990 video, A Walk, begins at 80 Wooster Street (also the site of John Lennon’s Polaroids) and ends at the bottom of the Williamsburg Bridge.

Williamsburg, 2018, C-Print, 20 ¾ × 16 ¾ inches (52.71 × 42.55 cm) (framed), Edition of 3 plus II AP

The meandering stroll captured through Mekas’ eyes in A Walk is echoed in photographic prints that seem to traffic in happenstance and Lennon’s Polaroids full of spontaneous fun. Mekas’ film stills capture neighborhood residents in windows, on street corners, chatting, playing and more. The images evoke a refreshing spontaneity that celebrates the beauty of imperfection found in both the casualness of everyday life and the medium of analog film. Color shifts, soft hues, blur and obfuscation add a delightful sense of artistry to the prints. In A Walk, the unedited documentation and commentary made by Mekas on his stroll is reminiscent of what millions of New Yorkers do every day, although more often without the attentiveness of Mekas. The video is shaky. It’s a rainy day and random people walk by. Some stop to buy a Christmas tree. Umbrellas seem to be optional, as a bucket of roses sways across the screen among numerous other moments of street life.

John Lennon, Portrait of Jonas Mekas, 1971, Polaroid, 4 ¼ × 3 ⅜ inches (10.80 × 8.57 cm), 12 ¾ × 9 ¾ inches (32.39 × 24.77 cm) (framed), Unique

The exhibition’s installation feels light and airy, creating a sense of spaciousness; a sensation perhaps akin to the empty mind employed by a walker of lensman responding to a flow of observations. In the large first room of the gallery twelve 20” x 16” photographs flank one wall. A flat screen TV with the video playing sits in the center of the opposite wall. The remaining two walls are entirely empty. In a smaller gallery, only one wall is utilized to install the 6 Polaroids on view; four of Mekas and two of George Maciunas, the dinner party’s host. Several of the Polaroids are accompanied by playful handwritten captions by John and Yoko Ono. In addition to the Onos, Andy Warhol and photographer Peter Moore, among others, were in attendance.

Williamsburg, 2018, C-Print, 20 ¾ × 16 ¾ inches (52.71 × 42.55 cm) (framed), Edition of 3 plus II AP

Mekas’ love of film can still be evidenced today in the city through his legacy as the founder of the Anthology Film Archives in 1970; an art house film mecca that is still alive and well.

Jonas Mekas: Notes from Downtown at James Fuentes Gallery is on view through September 5th, 2018.