Art Review: Jonas Mekas @ Serpentine Gallery

Jonas Mekas is a Lithuanian-born artist who has documented most of his life through film, always on the lookout for items and moments of beauty. This retrospective is more than just a collection of his works, it’s a look back over his life.

Mekas chronicled his family life in New York between 1976 and 1995. During this time, the World Trade Centre appears in the background of home movies, seen as an eternal monument that never changes as his family grows and time passes by. The schmaltzy soundtrack does negate some of its potency, but despite this it’s still a fitting tribute to the tragic loss of life on September 11th.

His life journey continues through an uneventful video of a dumpling party with John Lennon and Andy Warhol, through to harrowing yet spirited photographs of World War II refugees. The works take on an extra potency when visitors read that Mekas spent some time in forced labour camps after the war.

Also featured is poetry that depicts what life was like growing up in a farming community, but it’s outshone by a the video next door titled ‘Life of a happy man’. It contains many insightful quotes such as when the artist describes New York as a city of ‘light and sadness’.

Mekas has led a varied and interesting life, and rather than just showing the highlights this exhibition covers both pivotal moments and the almost mundane nature of day to day life. For this reason, the works vary from the touching and poignant through to the dry and difficult to penetrate.

Jonas Mekas is on display at the Serpentine Gallery, Kensington Gardens, W2 3XA until 27 January. Admission is free.

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