Mike Kelley Memorial, Highland Park, 2012
To be in or adjacent to the Los Angeles art world is to know someone personally affected by Mike Kelley. More than just an influential artist whose work consistently meshed pop culture with serious emotion, sentimentality with the absurd, he was a teacher and friend to more than can be counted. His suicide on January 31, 2012 at the age of 57 shocked all who knew him and more. Almost immediately after the news of his death, a Facebook page invited mourners to rebuild his More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin (1987) by bringing stuffed animals, candles, blankets, etc. to an empty lot in Highland Park that sat only feet below his studio.
Mike Kelley, Mobile Homestead (2010).
Initially planned as a mid-career review, this retrospective’s arrival at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA, after having visited the Stedelijk in Amsterdam and MoMA’s P. S. 1 in New York, is a double homecoming, the most comprehensive review of his work ever shown in the city he considered home and the arrival of his Mobile Homestead (2010), a full-scale replica of the house in which he grew up used for public services. Usually housed at the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, this is the first time this piece has actually gone mobile, and inside can be found an installation by the Lamp Arts Project, an LA-based organization working to end homelessness for those who are most vulnerable, as well as a donation drive for the Union Rescue Mission.
Mike Kelley, More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin (1987), surrounded by other works.
When one first walks in, one is met with an onslaught of noise – a massive selection of his video works are projected onto screens hanging from the ceilings of the Geffen’s hangar-like open space. The sounds of the videos follow the viewer throughout the show, reflecting perfectly the oversaturated, sometimes disturbing, sometimes melodic mess that comprises Kelley’s work. From there, the show is divided into sections – his drawings and paintings, his sketches, his works based on Krypton, his rainbow-colored hallway installation of important, male cultural producers, his sculpture that includes a creepily life-like Colonel Sanders. (We’ve honestly been trying to figure out how to best describe the show for you for about a month, but it’s just too much. He was so prolific, and wandering through this show feels like running through his mind.) Finally, in a large, open room to the right of the Geffen, one whose closed doors shut out the barrage of the projections in the main room and one is alone with a gathering of his best known work, the stuffed animals and lumpy blankets that feel like a sinister dream of one’s childhood. More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and The Wages of Sin, the original. There are still objects everywhere, but it is peaceful. All of this work is home, and the audience is home in it.
Mike Kelley is on display at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA until tomorrow, July 28.