“Magnuson is like a six-armed Shiva, each hand holds a different aspect; enchanting song-bird, pop-culture critic, wise-cracking comedienne, camera-ready actress, sassy temptress, and an extremely poignant, emotionally provocative performance artist. She is a one-woman mandala of brilliance. And she has the wardrobe to match!”
– Ben McCoy
Ann Magnuson is a writer/ actress/ singer/ musician/ performer whose eclectic resume traverses the entertainment landscape like few others. She has acted in Hollywood blockbusters, Off-Broadway plays, TV sitcoms and indie films; fronted various bands; made records; written for numerous publications and has presented her original performance art pieces at art institutions worldwide including the Whitney Museum (performing a 5-hour “Tribute to Muzak” in the museum elevator), The Museum of Modern Art, Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, BAM, LACMA, MOCA, The Hammer Museum, REDCAT, The Walker Art Center, The Andy Warhol Museum and in places as far flung as Tokyo’s Sogetsu Hall and The Ice Hotel inside Sweden’s Arctic Circle. Ann was inducted into the West Virginia Hall of Fame (along with Hasil Adkins, Fred “Sonic” Smith) in early 2018 and, in May 2020, West Virginia University will be present her with an honorary doctorate from their College of Arts.
Current projects include a recurring role in Season 3 (and Season 4 – now in production) of the Amazon Prime series “The Man In The High Castle” and a new music single, “The Sun Don’t Care (Who’s President)” with accompanying video that offers a cosmic ray of hope and whimsy amidst the hostility aggravated by our current political climate. Ann was guest curator of the recent Club 57 retrospective at MoMA (Museum of Modern Art) in NYC that ran from October 31, 2017-April 8, 2018 and will be curating a show along similar themes for the LA-based gallery Winslow Garage in Spring 2019. She performed “The Bongwater Songbook” at the Portland Institute for Contemporary Art (PICA) in November 2017, reuniting with her former bandmates who also accompanied her in the 2016 MOMA performance, “Dream Sequencing” (featuring video as well as music and spoken word from her 2016 CD, “Dream Girl.”) Her epic track “Open Letter to an Open Letter: Seriously WTF?!,” (a serio-comic rant about the insanity of the internet) was released in 2017. She is currently finishing a recording project with the LA-based DJ consortium Dub Lab.
MOMA recently acquired MADE FOR TV (the 1984 art video she made with artist Tom Rubnitz) as well as Ann’s student films from her time at Denison University (including “One God, One Singer”, a short film about Elvis Presley’s 1976 concert in her hometown of Charleston, West Virginia.)
Ann Magnuson currently lives in Los Angeles with her husband, architect John Bertram.
Born and raised in Charleston, WV, Ann received a BFA in Theater & Cinema from Denison University and studied theater in London at the British and European Studies Group. She arrived in New York City in 1978 as an intern at The Ensemble Studio Theater and soon became part of the seminal art, music and performance scene that exploded in downtown New York City in the late 1970s and throughout the1980s. There she managed the now-infamous neo-Dada cabaret space, Club 57. She was president of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Lower East Side and started the all-girl percussive art band Pulsallama (whose 1982 track “Way Out Guyana” was recently sampled by Detroit rapper Danny Brown.) She performed regularly in downtown theaters, galleries and clubs including Mudd Club, Danceteria, The Pyramid and CBGB. In addition to her many bands and solo work, Ann regularly collaborated with performers Eric Bogosian, Kestutis Nakas, John Sex and Joey Arias in numerous shows. She also directed the 1978 New Wave Vaudeville show that launched the career of New Wave operatic icon Klaus Nomi.
As a singer and songwriter, she has performed in several bands including the sardonic folk trio Bleaker Street Incident, the satiric heavy metal band Vulcan Death Grip and the psycho-psychedelic band Bongwater, with whom she released five albums and gained an international cult following that remains to this day. Magnuson has also released three solo albums, “The Luv Show” (Geffen 1995); “Pretty Songs & Ugly Stories” (Asphodel 2007) and “Dream Girl” (Pink Fleece 2016) as well as the EP track “Open Letter to an Open Letter: Seriously WTF?!” (Pink Fleece 2017) Her latest single “The Sun Don’t Care” was released in October of 2018. She has contributed tracks to two West Virginia Hall of Fame tribute records for Blind Alfred Reed and Little Jimmy Dickens. Her EP, “The Jobriath Medley” was released in 2012 along with a reissue of her 1997 cover of David Bowie’s “Moonage Daydream.” Ann deconstructed the concepts of success and failure through the stories and songs of glam rockers Jobriath and David Bowie at SFMOMA in 2011 in a song-cycle entitled, “The Rock Star as Witch Doctor, Myth-Maker and Ritual Sacrifice.” In 2012, she performed portions of that show as well as all of The Jobriath Medley at REDCAT as part of the OUTFEST Platinum series and in July 2012 was asked to create a special “Mudd Club Cabaret” for the Cindy Sherman retrospective opening at SFMOMA. In 2014, she performed and curated the raucous “One Hour Bacchanal”, an art-carnival tribute to Mike Kelley as part of MOCA’s retrospective to the artist.
As a film actress, Magnuson has been ravished by David Bowie in the classic vampire film “The Hunger”, had her neck broken by a suave drug dealer in the Harrison Ford thriller “Clear and Present Danger,” romanced robot John Malkovich in “Making Mr. Right,” played Jodie Foster’s mysterious real estate agent in “Panic Room,” told off Meryl Streep in “Before and After,” seduced River Phoenix in “A Night in the Life of Jimmy Reardon” and gave Samuel L. Jackson his first love scene ever in “The Caveman’s Valentine.” Other memorable cinematic roles include the sly cigarette girl who is pals with Madonna in “Desperately Seeking Susan,” the sexy, blue-skinned, multi-armed goddess who deflowers Chris Elliot in “Cabin Boy” and the manic Patrick Nagel-styled publicist in Mariah Carey’s infamous “Glitter”. She has acted in many independent films including “The United States of Leland,” “Still Breathing,” “Ghostlight,” Beth and Scott B’s “Vortex” and Sara Driver’s “Sleepwalk.” Regarding her tour-de-force dramatic performance (as a home-shopping-club TV hostess having a nervous breakdown) in the 2011 indie film, “Woman’s Picture, VARIETY wrote: “Fassbinder meets Sirk…a showcase for Ann Magnuson (at the top of her game).” She co-starred as Christopher Walken’s wife in the 2015 film, “One More Time” and appears as a grieving mother opposite actor Kevin Breznahan in the 2018 dramatic indie short “Pinebox.”
Magnuson was the first ‘devil who wore Prada’ magazine editor in the early 1990s ABC-TV sitcom “Anything But Love” (opposite Jamie Lee Curtis, Richard Lewis and guest star John Ritter) and has appeared in numerous TV shows including “Modern Family,” “Frasier,” “CSI: Miami” and “The Drew Carey Show,” “The John Larroquette Show,” the HBO series “From the Earth to the Moon”; “Our House” (opposite Doris Roberts for the Hallmark Channel) and HBO’s “Looking” among others. In 2018 she played opposite Judd Hirsch in the CBS sitcom “Superior Donuts.”
Magnuson co-wrote and starred in Vandemonium (1987), a surreally comic special for Cinemax. Her short art-video, “Made for TV” (a collaboration with video artist Tom Rubnitz, where she portrays every character on every channel during a regular broadcast day) premiered in 1984 on the PBS show “Alive From Off Center”. The video was recently acquired by MOMA and was featured in their Club 57 exhibition. She also co-curated (with artist Kenny Scharf) EAST VILLAGE WEST, a 2011 retrospective of East Village art from the 1980s at the Culver City gallery, Royal-T.
Off-Broadway stage credits include “The Vagina Monologues,” John Patrick Shanley’s “Four Dogs and a Bone” and her own one-woman show “You Could Be Home Now” (performed at The Public Theater/NYSF.) Magnuson also starred as Liz in The Blank Theater’s LA premiere of Amy and David Sedaris’ play “The Book of Liz” and her one-woman show “Rave Mom” played P.S.122 in 2001. She performed often at Joe’s Pub in NYC and at The Steve Allen Theater in Los Angeles as well as in theaters, cabaret spaces and music clubs all over the country and parts of Canada and Europe.
She was commissioned to create two new original pieces about her experiences growing up in West Virginia for FestivALL! (the summer arts festival held annually in Charleston, WV) – “Dreaming of Charleston” (2009) and “Back Home Again: An Evening of SurRURALism” (2015)
Ann appeared as a guest vocalist on the Tindersticks album Curtains (singing with Stuart Staples in the duet “Buried Bones). She has also appeared as an actress in music videos, most notably as the crazed Annie in the Redd Kross video “Annie’s Gone” and as the mysterious Goth chick tormenting Alice in Chain’s Jerry Cantrell in his video for “My Song.” (Both can be seen on YouTube.) She collaborated with musician John Cale on his experimental musical “Life Underwater,” performed at the original St. Anne’s Church in Brooklyn in 1994. In 2011, she portrayed Greta Garbo (alongside brothers Ron and Russell Mael) in the SPARKS musical “The Secret Life of Ingmar Bergman” in the show’s US premiere at the John Anson Ford Theater in Los Angeles.
Ann has written essays, humor pieces and done celebrity interviews for ArtForum, BUST, VOGUE, ALLURE, HARPER’S BAZAAR, DEPARTURES and Conde Nast TRAVELER as well as many other magazines. From 2000-2008 she wrote the monthly column “L.A. Woman” for PAPER magazine. Recently, she wrote about her LA neighborhood of Silver Lake for the German art magazine BLAU and contributed a dream story to the compilation book “Country Gone Missing: Nightmares in the Time of Trump.”
Ann divides her time between L.A. and Joshua Tree, where she makes and shows visual art.