For a moment let us relive MoMA PS1’s “Mike Kelley“retrospective, now on view at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Viewing the largest-ever exhibition of the eclectic and influential artist’s work is like plunging down the rabbit hole to an uncanny world. The show brought together more than 200 works representing Kelley’s entire career from the 1970s through 2012, the year of his untimely suicide. Kelly's love for quirky science fiction, and his brilliant manipulation of materials to create faux-mineral sculptures, indicates he is a SciArtist at heart.
By Danielle Kalamaras
If you have a chance to catch a flight to L.A., visiting “Mike Kelley” is an immersive experience. At times humorous, perverse and bizarre —yet ultimately relatable — Kelley’s sardonically critical art always keeps you guessing. At once familiar and strange, Kelley pushes conventions to their breaking points. His dark humor speaks for the underbelly of society, exploring themes of class, pop culture, childhood, repressed memories and contradictions within power structures.
The art on view now at MOCA is expansive, including drawing, printmaking, painting, assemblage, sculpture, photography, film, sound and performance. Kelley’s expertise comes when he combines multiple media into installations that immerse viewers into phantasmagoric worlds. His love for science fiction and comic stars coincide in his last series before his death, his “Kandor Project” (1999-2011). This is a series of sculptures, illustrations and projections named for the fictional birthplace of Superman — which, in comic-book lore, was shrunken and preserved under glass. The pseudoscientific “Kandor” installation weaves together Kelley’s glowing sculptures — cast in colored resin and encased in containers or set on faux-rock pedestals —with oversized video projections of Kandors-in-action, in which encased minerals whirl about their glass vitrines like so many dreamlike snow globes.
But do not stop there! “Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites” (1991/1999) is a must-see installation of plush toys sewn into motley, kaleidoscopic cloud formations descending from the museum’s ceiling. The ever-haunting “Wayne, MI (US), 1954 – South Pasadena, CA (US), 2012 Switching Marys” (2004–2005) is the exhibit’s most immersive installation. Inspired by the New Age faith in repressed memory of traumatic abuse, Kelley filmed creepy, not-quite-right re-creations of dated high-school yearbook photos, which are projected amid sculptures assembled from props used in the videos and simulacrum photographs of the actors alongside the yearbook originals.
Kelley's love for reframing science through humor allows a refreshing perspective for a usually complex subject. This immense retrospective is a must-see that affirms Kelley’s status as an artist with a passionate project of social critique and self-criticism.
“Mike Kelley” is on view at MOCA through July 28, 2014.