In the exhibit The Arcades Project, Walter Benjamin challenges the notion that the past is a fixed object, waiting to be elucidated. He calls the present “a waking world, a world to which that dream we name the past refers.” The dream quality of the past suggests that is is mutable, a patchwork of images and symbols that can be understood in myriad ways.”
The late artist Mike Kelley’s work has also focused on the unreliability of memory. His project, Mobile Homestead, a full-scale reproduction of his suburban, childhood home, resides on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit. The building’s first floor maintains the floor plan of the original, but its multilevel basement, closed to the public, includes crawl spaces and rooms that can only be accessed through ceiling hatches.
The dreamlike, labyrinthine architecture suggests the slipperiness of the past. Kelley explores the denial of uncomfortable realities of abuse and oppression in domestic life, not in tune with the American Dream as represented by the suburban home, with its white picket fence. This lamp, a miniaturized version of the building, adds another layer of surrealness to the house.
Mobile Homestead Swag Lamp, Installation View
Photographed as part of the exhibit, The Arcades Project: Contemporary Art and Walter Benjamin, on Exhibit at the Jewish Museum in Manhattan Through August 6th, 2017.
The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter) #6: Fall, 1994 By Mike Kelley (All Photos By Gail)
Skarstedt’s Chelsea gallery is currently hosting an exhibition of Mike Kelley’s shaped paintings, never before seen as a group. Dating from the early to mid-1990s, this body of work demonstrates Kelley’s return to the medium following a 15-year span of performance, multimedia and installation art. Deconstructing the canon of modernist color and composition, the paintings manifest Kelley’s psychological road map through images recovered from his memory.
Center and Peripheries #2, 1990
A source of Kelley’s rebellion was his formal art training at the University of Michigan, which emphasized the philosophy of Abstract Expressionism. Reflecting on his time at school, Kelley stated: “My education must have been a form of mental abuse, of brainwashing.” Kelley explored “screen memories” in his shaped paintings, delving deep into his unconscious to recover and identify the repressed memories of his trauma.
For The Thirteen Seasons series, Kelley created an oval-shaped painting on wood for each month of the year. Meant to resemble his student work, the paintings come to terms with influences of his art education, focusing on elements of Hans Hofmann’s “push-pull” theory, in addition to typically expressive techniques, such as finger painting. Childlike illustrations, such jack-o-lanterns and cartoon animals, reveal Kelley’s memories, unrestrained by conventional composition.
The final work of the series, The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter) #13: Art represents the month that doesn’t appear on the calendar. Kelley employed a wood grain trompe l’oeil technique to the surface, suggesting that the appearance of wood is effectively permanent through painting. Here, Kelley offers a reminder that art belongs to the thirteenth season, of memory, one that is independent of the calendar’s rhythm and preserves its existence throughout time.
Prenatal Mutual Recognition of Betty and Barney Hill, 1995
Kelley revisits his troubled youth in Prenatal Mutual Recognition of Betty and Barney Hill, which was originally exhibited at Metro Pictures in 1995 as part of the Timeless Paintings series. That exhibition presented paintings along with architectural models of Kelley’s schools, the designated sites of his abuse. Echoing The Thirteen Seasons, portraits of a boy and girl float aimlessly above Hofmann-like geometric forms in the irregularly shaped composition.
Untwisted Cross follows a similar pattern of regression to childhood in its coarse sketch of a skull among blocks of color. As a diverse group, Kelley’s shaped paintings draw focus to his unique approach to painting and critically inform the rest of the artist’s oeuvre.
Mike Kelley’s Shaped Paintings will be on Exhibit Through June 25th, 2016, at Skarstedt Gallery, Located at 550 West 21st Street in the Chelsea Gallery District.
According to the comic book legend, Superman’s father Jor-El sent his infant son to safety on Earth before Krypton’s destruction, saving his life but inadvertently sentencing Superman to a future of displacement, loneliness and longing.
Superman grows up believing that Kandor – his city of birth – was destroyed, but later discovers his real home still exists, having been stolen by intergalactic archvillain Brainiac prior to Krypton’s demise, shrunken to a miniature metropolis and left trapped inside a glass bottle.
Superman ultimately wrestles Kandor away from Brainiac and hides it in his Fortress of Solitude, sustaining its citizens with tanks of Kryptonic atmosphere.
As artist Mike Kelley (1954 – 2012) once explained, Kandor functions for Superman as “a perpetual reminder of his inability to escape the past, and his alienated relationship to his present world.”
Hauser & Wirth is currently hosting the eponymous Mike Kelley exhibit, the gallery’s first exhibition devoted to one of the most ambitious and influential artists of our time. Organized in collaboration with the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts, the exhibition is the first in New York to focus exclusively on one of the most significant of Kelley’s later series, Kandors. These visually opulent, technically ambitious sculptures combine with videos and a sprawling installation never before exhibited in the United States, as the late Los Angeles artist reworks the imagery and mythology of the popular American comic book hero, Superman, into an extraordinary opus of nurture and loss, destruction, mourning and – possibly – redemption. This my favorite exhibit of the year so far!
Kelley’s Kandors (1999, 2007, 2009, 2011) is named for Superman’s birthplace, the capital of the planet Krypton. According to the comic book legend, Superman’s father Jor-El sent his infant son to safety on Earth before Krypton’s destruction, saving his life but inadvertently sentencing Superman to a future of displacement, loneliness and longing.
Bottle 4 Video Projection
Superman grows up believing that Kandor was destroyed, but later discovers his real home still exists: Kandor was stolen by intergalactic archvillain Brainiac prior to Krypton’s demise, shrunken to a miniature metropolis and left trapped inside a glass bottle. Superman ultimately wrestles Kandor away from Brainiac and hides it in his Fortress of Solitude, sustaining its citizens with tanks of Kryptonic atmosphere. As Kelley once explained, Kandor functions for Superman as ‘a perpetual reminder of his inability to escape the past, and his alienated relationship to his present world.’
Wall of Lenticluar Prints
While Kelley’s Kandors series relates to the artist’s longstanding preoccupation with memory, trauma, and repression, these works are also powerful vehicles for the formal investigations of color, light and scale that marked the last decade of the artist’s life. Kelley even described works from the series as being ‘akin to paintings by Henri Matisse’, but sculptural and in three dimensions. By focusing exclusively upon Kandors, the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth offers viewers fresh insight into the formal challenges, popular cultural references, and psychological states Kelley prioritized in his last years.
Entering the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, visitors encounter a group of vitreous sculptures glowing in a dimly lit room. Cast in resin, these miniature metropolises representing the city of Kandor create an optically dazzling spectacle rendered in a palette of refracted colors.
Visitors continue through the space to find Kandor 4 (2007), in which Kelley has abstracted and reinterpreted the narrative of the fictive city in a complex amalgamation. Kandor 4 comprises three cities standing on a plinth, illuminated from beneath, with their towering architectural skylines bathed in tones of yellow, red and blue.
Kandor 4, Detail
The fantastical cities are juxtaposed with an ultraviolet glass bottle resting on a yellow base, connected to a gas tank and hose intended to evoke the life sustaining vapors Superman used to keep the citizens of Kandor alive beneath their glass bell jar. In the final component, a video projection depicts Bottle 4 with an array of swirling atmospheric and light effects inside it, accompanied by an otherworldly soundtrack composed by Kelley.
Each unique representation of Kandor in the exhibition derives from one of the many illustrations of the city by various artists in the Superman comics, beginning with Action Comics #242 (July 1958). Intrigued by the stylistic and architectural inconsistencies that marked Kandor’s representation in the ensuing half century, Kelley selected 20 strikingly diverse illustrations from the original comics’ panels.
Click to a Watch Video and Hear the Exhibit’s Otherworldly Soundtrack
He manipulated and superimposed the designs and colors of these illustrations, which he enlarged to life-scale and employed to create a group of lenticular light boxes. A selection of these light boxes illuminates the darkened hallway leading visitors to the exhibition’s innermost room and most significant element: Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude) (2011).
Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude)
Still from Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #36
This version of Kelley’s Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #36 (Vice Anglais) (2011) is a lightbox that juxtaposes the original found photograph with a still from his film. Click to Watch Video
The climax and coda to the Kandors series, ‘Exploded Fortress of Solitude’ is a cavernous installation spread across the gallery’s main space. Exhibited here for the first time in the United States, this epic work is presented together with the video ‘Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #36 (Vice Anglais)’ (2011), an unsettling but humorous satire that collides psychosexual and sadomasochistic drama with a repertoire of parodic clichés derived from British Hammer Horror films. The blackened exterior of Kelley’s monumental fortress contains a dimly lit cave-like environment surrounded by fragmented boulders, a gas tank, hoses, a buck, and chains, evoking a haunting sense of unease and menace.
Here, the artist shifted his formal investigations from color, light and transparency to ambitious sculptural gestures inflected by darkness and opacity. Exploded Fortress of Solitudeis a ruin of textured, black-hued, faux boulders and slabs that draws viewers inside by the sheer force of its scale and mystery, while the murmuring acoustics of Vice Anglaislayer the atmosphere with tension and anticipation.
In the video, the Exploded Fortress of Solitude serves as the backdrop for the exploits for Kelley’s gang of perverts; visitors exploring the cave are likewise subjected to the unsettling whimpers and debauchery of the English Vice.
One of the final works of the Kandors series, Exploded Fortress of Solitudesuggests a dramatic denouement for the fated city, a possible catharsis not only for Superman but for Mike Kelley and for us. It emblematizes the extraordinary articulation that preoccupied Kelley in the years before his untimely death, between his two great serial enterprises of the 21st century, Kandors and the Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstructions.
From within the depths of Superman’s fortress, the visitor is reunited with the city of Kandor, now rendered as a glowing rose-colored emanation encased beneath a bell jar. Eerily illuminating the darkness of the rocky chamber, the roseate Kandor reveals that the crevices of Superman’s solitary sanctum sanctorum actually glitter with tiny gold trinkets.
The Fortress of Solitude has indeed exploded. Chaos has triumphed over order and long years of preservation have succumbed to galactic cataclysm – but we are left with a pot of gold. At the limit of loneliness and trauma, in an uncanny archaic place, we encounter a glittering symbol of duality – of hope and life, of wealth and greed.
Mike Kelley took his own life on January 31, 2012. RIP.
Mike Kelley will be on Exhibit through October 24th, 2015 at Hauser & Wirth, Located at 511 West 18th Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.
All Photos By Gail (Click on Any Image to Enlarge for Detail)
While I can’t admit to being fan of every singleJohn Waters‘ directed film (and I have seen most of them), I sure do appreciate his artistic aesthetic, and he seems like a cool person from what I hear. So, I was really excited to rush out to the Marianne Boesky Gallery in 15 degree weather to check out Waters‘ latest exhibit (and third at this gallery) which is called Beverly Hills John. This is an ambitious exhibit which showcases the director/artist’s work in a variety of mediums including photography, prints, collage, sculpture and film — all of which I found to be utterly delightful.
In boundary-pushing works that address Waters‘ obsession with Art, Pop Culture, Pulp Fiction Novels, the Film Industry and Gay Culture, his irreverent humor is evident everywhere you look; but he also gives you something to think about.
Or Thimk about.
In Congratulations (above), Waters riffs on the infamous red dot commonly used in galleries to indicate a sale.
Bill’s Stroller features a studded leather strap for securing baby and the stenciled names of various underground Gay Sex Clubs.
R.I.P. Mike Kelley is a tribute to the late artist, who committed suicide in 2012.
In Grim Reaper, Jackie O and JFK are trailed by Death as portrayed by Bengt Ekerot in the Ingmar Bergman film, The Seventh Seal.
Film Festival takes a famous film title and changes one word, making it grammatically incorrect while (in most cases) maintaining roughly the same meaning. Two detail shots are below.
Separate But Equal, (2014)
I have no comment for this one.
Screenshot from Kiddie Flamingos
The absolute highlight of the exhibit (for me) is a new 74-minute video entitled Kiddie Flamingos, which is one of the most hilarious things I’ve ever seen in my life and is brilliant on so many levels. Kiddie Flamingos shows a table read of Waters’ X-rated 1972 cult film Pink Flamingos, rewritten as a children’s movie with an all-kid cast. Bluntly put: this video is mind blowing. Even if you can’t stay for the entire film, make sure you see at least 15 minutes of it, because it is just insane. According to the press release, “Waters hopes that this defanged and desexualized sequel is even more perverse than the original, transferring innocence into a new kind of joyous, G-rated obscenity.” Seriously, don’t miss this exhibit.
John Waters: Beverly Hills John will be on Exhibit Through February 14th, 2015 at Marianne Boesky Gallery, Located at 509 West 24th Street in the Chelsea Gallery District.