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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!