A kitsch klatch of thrift shop yarn dolls and stuffed animals get the yearbook photo treatment alongside the genuine article (featuring the artist himself) in Mike Kelly’s lineup of misfit mug shots entitled Ah . . . Youth! (1991). The artist’s self-charicature compares his apathetic, acne-scarred, adolescent self to the cuddly but creepy castoffs in a fractured fairytale about youth.
Early viewers of the work assumed that it conjured the artist’s traumatic childhood, but Kelley insisted that such conjectures were formed more by projected anxieties than by any repressed memories of his own. Still, he admitted that such symbol-laden toys and similar cultural objects wield unnerving control: “You are them, whether you like it or not.“ The iconic series is widely recognized from the cover of Sonic Youth’s 1992 album Dirty and a 2018 drop from streetwear label Supreme.
Photographed in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.