Kenneth Anger

 

Kenneth Anger (*1927) is a pioneer of avant-garde film and video art. His iconic short films are characterized by a mystical-symbolic visual language and phantasmagorical-sensual opulence that underscores the medium’s transgressive potential. Anger’s work fundamentally shaped the aesthetics of 1960s and 1970s subcultures, the visual lexicon of pop and music videos and queer iconography. The Los Angeles-based artist considers his life an artwork in its own right and frequently weaves elements of myth, fact and fiction into his biography. His works can be understood as an integrative part of this life-as-artwork.

 

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Anger’s keen perfectionism led him to assume all the usual filmmaking roles himself from the very beginning: In an unusual synthesis he handles all of the camera work, set design, costume design, film development and editing and acts as director, producer and actor in one. Even his earliest productions show the themes and artistic strategies that define his oeuvre. His experimental montage technique eschews spoken dialogue. Though possessed of certain narrative traits, its real power lies in a specific kind of suggestion. Anger’s first work, the 14-minute Fireworks (1947), was so provocative that the young artist was hauled to court on obscenity charges. Subject matter in the short film includes homosexual cruising, sailor fetish, sexual violence and gore. Its black-and-white images appear governed by an archetypal dream logic: phallic fireworks explode, the protagonist’s guts are crudely cut open to reveal a compass in his viscera and a sailor walks through a shot with Christmas tree on his head. His 38-minute Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954) sees this dream logic tip completely into a surreal Technicolor color frenzy. The result is a sexually charged, orgiastic mixture of myth and ecstasy somewhere between period film set, opera stage, Kabuki theater and nightclub.

Later films including Scorpio Rising (1963), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Lucifer Rising (1972–80) develop this exuberant visual language further and also involve an expansion of their film-technique repertoire. Cine-sculptural strategies including double exposure or physical manipulation of the celluloid, the striking contrast of superficial pop music and disturbing images, the integration of found documentary footage and the use of subliminally-charged religious and mythological symbols enhance the films’ completely hypnotic effect. Influenced by the theories of the British writer Aleister Crowley, these works are also distinguished by a clear affinity for the occult and the enactment of an explicitly “perverse” imagination. Images of motorcycle gangs, orgies of violence, Egyptian deities, archetypal volcanic and desert landscapes and satanic rituals produce highly atmospheric, psychedelic psychodramas rife with breaches of taboo, sexual neuroses and voyeuristic fantasies.

Anger also is the author of Hollywood Babylon (1959), a book that anticipates the highs and lows of celebrity journalism. Mainstream Hollywood cinema is both the matrix of Anger’s work and its antipode. The visual lexicon of his films refers again and again to its dominant images while simultaneously subverting them in a radical way. At the heart of his practice is the fundamental, mind-expanding power of the film medium, a power absent in the genres of mainstream cinema practices. Anger considers cinematographic projection a psychosocial ritual capable of unleashing physical and emotional energies. The artist sees film as nothing less than a spiritual medium, a conveyer of spectacular alchemy that transforms the viewer.

 

Kenneth Anger: A Weekend of Anger
Institute of Contemporary Art, London, July 27–July 28, 2013
© ICA, London 2013

Works
Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
Single-channel split screen digital projection
7:00 min loop

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Scarlet Woman (Marjorie Cameron), 1954–66

Kenneth Anger
Scarlet Woman (Marjorie Cameron), 1954–66
C-Print
85.2 × 116.4 cm
33 1/2 × 45 7/8 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Lord Shiva (Sampson de Brier), 1954–66

Kenneth Anger
Lord Shiva (Sampson de Brier), 1954–66
C-Print
85.2 × 110 cm
33 1/2 × 43 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Lilith (Marianne Faithfull), 1970–81

Kenneth Anger
Lilith (Marianne Faithfull), 1970–81
C-Print
85 × 112.4 cm
33 1/2 × 44 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Astarte (Anaïs Nin), 1954–66

Kenneth Anger
Astarte (Anaïs Nin), 1954–66
C-Print
85.2 × 110 cm
33 1/2 × 43 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Invocation of my Demon Brother, 1969

Kenneth Anger
Invocation of my Demon Brother, 1969
16 mm film, transferred to DVD, color
10:43 min

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
C-Print
66 × 88.9 cm
26 × 35 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
C-Print
66 × 88.9 cm
26 × 35 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Fireworks, 1947

Kenneth Anger
Fireworks, 1947
C-Print
85.2 × 110.3 cm
33 1/2 × 43 3/8 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Sphinx with UFO, 1970–81

Kenneth Anger
Sphinx with UFO, 1970–81
C-Print
85.2 × 116.4 cm
33 1/2 × 45 7/8 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Puce Moment (Yvonne Marquis II), 1949

Kenneth Anger
Puce Moment (Yvonne Marquis II), 1949
C-Print
85 × 112.4 cm
33 1/2 × 44 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger
Hollywood Babylon, 1975/2000

Kenneth Anger
Hollywood Babylon, 1975/2000
Neon, plexiglas
86.9 × 110 × 15 cm
34 1/8 × 43 1/4 × 6 inches

Details
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
Single-channel split screen digital projection
7:00 min loop

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Scarlet Woman (Marjorie Cameron), 1954–66
C-Print
85.2 × 116.4 cm
33 1/2 × 45 7/8 inches

Kenneth Anger
Scarlet Woman (Marjorie Cameron), 1954–66
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Lord Shiva (Sampson de Brier), 1954–66
C-Print
85.2 × 110 cm
33 1/2 × 43 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Lord Shiva (Sampson de Brier), 1954–66
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Lilith (Marianne Faithfull), 1970–81
C-Print
85 × 112.4 cm
33 1/2 × 44 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Lilith (Marianne Faithfull), 1970–81
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Astarte (Anaïs Nin), 1954–66
C-Print
85.2 × 110 cm
33 1/2 × 43 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Astarte (Anaïs Nin), 1954–66
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Invocation of my Demon Brother, 1969
16 mm film, transferred to DVD, color
10:43 min

Kenneth Anger
Invocation of my Demon Brother, 1969
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
C-Print
66 × 88.9 cm
26 × 35 inches

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
C-Print
66 × 88.9 cm
26 × 35 inches

Kenneth Anger
Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome, 1954–2014
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Fireworks, 1947
C-Print
85.2 × 110.3 cm
33 1/2 × 43 3/8 inches

Kenneth Anger
Fireworks, 1947
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Sphinx with UFO, 1970–81
C-Print
85.2 × 116.4 cm
33 1/2 × 45 7/8 inches

Kenneth Anger
Sphinx with UFO, 1970–81
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Puce Moment (Yvonne Marquis II), 1949
C-Print
85 × 112.4 cm
33 1/2 × 44 1/4 inches

Kenneth Anger
Puce Moment (Yvonne Marquis II), 1949
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Hollywood Babylon, 1975/2000
Neon, plexiglas
86.9 × 110 × 15 cm
34 1/8 × 43 1/4 × 6 inches

Kenneth Anger
Hollywood Babylon, 1975/2000
Details
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Current and Upcoming
Kenneth Anger
Sunil Gupta

Masculinities – Liberation through Photography
Barbican Arts Centre, London
February 20–May 17, 2020

Through the medium of film and photography, this major exhibition considers how masculinity has been coded, performed, and socially constructed from the 1960s to the present day.
Examining depictions of masculinity from behind the lens, the Barbican brings together the work of over 50 international artists, photographers and filmmakers including Laurie Anderson, Sunil Gupta, Rotimi Fani-Kayode, Isaac Julien and Catherine Opie.

Link
Exhibitions at Sprüth Magers
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Icons
March 23–April 20, 2013
London

The archive Icons will be exhibited across two rooms, painted midnight blue and crimson red, to replicate the way in which the collection was on display at Kenneth Anger’s home in Los Angeles. An occupation with Hollywood began as a child when Anger would visit film sets with his costume designer grandmother. Ranging from tabloid and magazine covers, to posters and illustrations, the archival documents on show, gathered over many decades, reveal the extent of Anger’s fascination with the industry and the Golden Age of Hollywood.

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Kenneth Anger
Icons
January 25–February 23, 2013
Berlin

Icons will bring together an archive of film, photographs, scrapbooks, letters, and memorabilia from Anger’s personal collection, offering an insight into the unique vision of an artist widely acclaimed as a pioneering and influential force in avant-garde cinema, whose influence extends through generations of film makers, musicians, and artists. Making films continuously since the late 1940s, Kenneth Anger is considered one of the most original filmmakers of American cinema and a countercultural icon.

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Kenneth Anger
Kenneth Anger

Kenneth Anger
Invocation of My Demon Brother
February 19–March 27, 2010
London

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. 1969 film Invocation of My Demon Brother, 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.

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Source Codes
Kenneth Anger, Richard Artschwager, John Baldessari, Bruce Conner, Richard Hamilton, David Lamelas, Richard Prince, Ed Ruscha, Lucas Samaras, John Stezaker, Paul Thek
June 26–August 29, 2009
Berlin

Source Codes juxtaposes a selection of works by a number of artists and filmmakers from Europe and America who mapped essential conceptual groundwork in the 1960s and 1970s and whose work remains influential to many artists today By examining new ways to rethink and translate visual information and cultural codes in the gaps between Minimalism and Pop Art, and through an interest in process-based performative practice, their work has exerted significant influence on younger artists in a variety of ways.

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Kenneth Anger
Press

Los Angeles Underground: Interview with Kenneth Anger
Purple, interview by Oliver Zahm and Brian Butler, Fall/Winter 2018/2019

Close up: America Year Zero. Ara Osterweil on Kenneth Anger’s Fireworks (1947)
Artform, article by Ara Osterweil, January 2017

The Devil in the Details: Kenneth Anger, the Inventor of a Celluloid Avant-Garde, Nears 90
ARTnews, article by Nate Freeman, February 23, 2016

Kenneth Anger
Interview Magazine, interview by Harmony Korine, June 30, 2014

Kenneth Anger: Where The Bodies Are Buried
Esquire, article by Mick Brown, January 3, 2014

 

Biography

Kenneth Anger (*1927, Santa Monica, CA) lives in Santa Monica, CA. Works include Fireworks (1947), Eaux d’Artifice (1953), Rabbit’s Moon (1950–73), Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome (1954–66), Scorpio Rising (1964), Invocation of My Demon Brother (1969) and Lucifer Rising (1970–81). Exhibitions and screenings include Barbican Centre, London (2020), IMMA, Dublin, Zeppelin Museum, Friedrichshafen (both 2017), Whitney Museum, New York (2015), Institute of Contemporary Arts, London (2013), Sprüth Magers Berlin and London (both 2013) and Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles (2011). Anger’s work has been featured at the Athens Biennial 2009, P.S.1 Contemporary Art Centre, New York in 2009 and the Whitney Biennial 2006.

Education
Beverly Hills High School, Los Angeles
Cinema Studies, University of Southern California, Los Angeles
Awards, Grants and Fellowships
2006 Outfest Achievement Award, Los Angeles
2002 Independent/Experimental Film and Video Award, Los Angeles
2001 The Golden Gate Persistence Of Vision Award (award for lifetime achievement), San Francisco
2000 Spirit of Silver Lake Award, Los Angeles
1996 Maya Deren Independent Film and Video Artist Award, Los Angeles
Filmography
2004 Anger Sees Red
2004 Mouse Heaven
2002 The Man We Want to Hang
2000 Don't Smoke That Cigarette
2000 Ich will!
1980 Lucifer Rising (third, revised version)
1979 Rabbit's Moon (third, revised version)
1970 Lucifer Rising (second version)
1969 Invocation of My Demon Brother
1966 Lucifer Rising (disappeared version)
1965 Kustom Kar Kommandos
1963 Scorpio Rising
1961 Historie d'O
1955 Thelema Abbey
1954 Inauguration of the Pleasure Dome
1953 Le Jeune Homme et le Mort
1953 Eaux d'Artifice
1952 Maldoror
1950 Rabbit's Moon
1949 The Love That Whirls
1949 Puce Moment
1947 Fireworks
1945 Drastic Demise
1944 Escape Episode
1943 The Nest
1942 Prisoner of Mars
1942 Tinsel Tree
1941 Who Has Been Rocking My Dreamboat