Ann Magnuson to Honor Artist Mike Kelley With Special One-Hour Performance at MOCA (Q&A)

 Courtesy of Ann Magnuson

For one hour only, from 3 to 4 p.m. on May 18, Ann Magnuson brings her adulterated magic to MOCA with her One-Hour Bacchanal to honor longtime friend and sometime collaborator, Mike Kelley, whose art is on display in a major retrospective at the Geffen Contemporary at MOCA through July 28. Kelley, who came out of the CalArts scene in the '80s, became a mainstay of L.A's blossoming underground scene in the '80s and '90s, working in everything from installation to performance art, before taking his own life in 2012.

There will be a Maypole event and some special guests, musicians and performance artists, including Squeaky Blonde and Cupcake Canne and The Psych-Out Dada Go-Go Family Dancers.

"All of the performers that I chose share the same particular L.A. underground sensibility that Mike Kelley had," L.A.-based Magnuson told The Hollywood Reporter by email. "The common denominator is fearlessness."

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Magnuson will perform several songs written with Kelley, such as "This Nothing Life," "It's a Great Feeling," "L.A. Donut Day" and "Man With No Face," plus a couple of songs from her Bongwater days.

Currently wrapping up production on When I Live My Life Over Again with Christopher Walken, Magnuson also has a recurring role on HBO's Looking as ersatz artist Stina. But this week she's all about her buddy, Mike Kelley. Magnuson had much to say about him and L.A.'s underground scene in the '90s, not to mention David Bowie sticking his tongue in her mouth and getting hit on by Harrison Ford, as well as riding the back of Kelley into the night while she screamed like a banshee.

The event's website mentions the "pagan god of art." Can you elaborate on that phrase?

Fertility symbols, cave drawings, totem poles … and the more the art world turns into Hollywood -- with its red carpet star-system hierarchies and insanely high prices, not to mention its increasingly shady business practices (I call the art world the stock market without the SEC) the more I think it has become idolatrous. What is more of a golden calf than a Jeff Koons inflatable balloon animal that sells for a gazillion dollars? OK, maybe an Oscar, but these days, art objects have really become status symbols. Mike Ovitz famously showing off his Picasso. I think there is a pagan-like quality to the way we worship the "currency" of art now.

Which songs will you be performing from Supersession? "Miss Pussy Pants," the drunken, raunchy Janis Joplin-like number? 

Well, I'm trying to decide if I'm too old to perform "Miss Pussy Pants" live again. It does tend to throw my back out! But, then again, given what Madonna and Cher are up to, maybe I shouldn't throw it out of the set list yet.

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Talk about your musical collaborations with him back in the '90s. What was it like hanging out with him?

It was actually always a lot of fun. Mike had just moved there too, and we ended up recording The Luv Show songs at Mike's Eagle Rock studio. Mike was always game for anything. He was serious about his music, but he rolled with the punches and really valued experimentation. The main thing I remember is all the black widow spiders that lived in (guitarist) Art (Byington)'s studio bathroom that I had to dodge when I went in there. I thought, "Well, I guess this is authentic West Coast rock 'n' roll with all them spiders in here!"

Was he ever frustrating?

Really only once -- the last time we played, at Luna Park, Mike imbibed a little too much too soon and got … well, very Mike Kelley. He was getting pretty obnoxious behind his drum set, disrupting the show. It was kind of funny at first and then … not so much. In fact, it became so not funny that at the end of that gig I said, not as a joke, "Not only is this the last show of the tour, it's the last show the Spiders from Mars will ever play." And it actually was our last show. It wasn't meant to last past a few jams.

And how great was it when everything was coming together?

A few drunken incidents aside, we always remained friends. We ended up performing "Miss Pussy Pants" at an art benefit in the backyard of some rich collector's house in Bel Air years later. And we had a wild old time with both of us screaming like banshees and me riding the back of Mike's back like a bronco. Throwing caution to the wind was a big part of the appeal of doing anything with Mike. Every encounter was a grand combination of the ridiculous and the sublime. I loved the guy, and my first reaction to his death was one of anger -- selfish, really -- because I wouldn't get to hang out with him again.

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Do you own any of his work to remember him by?

Yes, a banner used in the original performance of "Pansy Metal/Clovered Hoof," a piece re-created at the MOCA opening this March. I was at that first performance. It's a black and white silkscreen that has a corn husk on the front with the corncob wearing a straw hat and smoking a corncob pipe with the words MASTER DIK YA'LL on top. For a little gal from West Virginny, that was the perfect Mike Kelley art to own.

You mentioned Spiders From Mars, and I couldn't help but think of your first movie, The Hunger with David Bowie.

I remember so clearly the moment I had to show my newly-acquired-for-the-occasion passport when I arrived in London (most of the film was shot at Shepperton Studios) and it read Occupation: Actress. I knew at that moment I had made it! And when David Bowie stuck his tongue in my mouth.

And you played Madonna's sassy cigarette-girl pal in Desperately Seeking Susan.

I knew her from the East Village scene. Then "Like a Virgin" came out, and she shot into the stratosphere. She would turn up the volume when the teamster's car radio played Phil Collins' "Su Su Sudio" on our way to location. I decided I'd rather take a cab so I could listen to my new Aztec Camera cassette on my Walkman. That pretty much sums up the trajectory of our two bank accounts too.

And probably your most mainstream movie: Clear and Present Danger with Harrison Ford.

He was a total pro and at the height of his dashing heroic-ness. A year or so later, I walked by a line of trailers across from Central Park, and he came out of one of them. I reintroduced myself, and he was so nice -- and kinda flirty -- asking me what I was up to. I was doing some wacky cabaret thing at Joe's Pub at the time, and my nails were painted a deep aqua teal color. He took my hand and held it for a while, admiring my nails. I nearly fainted and scurried away. I got to flirt with Han Solo! These are the joys of being in show business.

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