Jonas Mekas has died. Part of my education as an artist came from regular treks down to 80 Wooster Street, the second home of Anthology Film Archives, where my friends taught me what real film was and where I first ran across Flaming Creatures, a work that spoiled me for middle-brow gay culture from then on out. When I went to Bard Collage in 1978, I went in part because of the film department, headed by Jonas’s brother, Adolphas. I never met Jonas, but saw some of his films at Bard, and only really knew about him as Smith’s declared nemesis, the person who was made to represent some of the many things that Smith detested about the way that art is treated in contemporary society.
There is no denying that Mekas created an arts institution that successfully provided a home for many different types of eccentrics, and that no institution could have satisfied Smith’s transformative vision of society. Anthology remains an outpost of aesthetic territory that few other institutions show even a passing interest in, one that I feel we need more than ever. It’s one of the places that allows you to acquire an education on your own terms, while constantly pointing out new and unexpected voices.
More than that Mekas was one of the people who made Sixties and Seventies New York into one of the centers of the counterculture, creating an underground scene that made the city loom in the minds of many more people than ever walked through Anthology’s doors.