Mike Kelley

1954, Detroit, USA – 2012, Los Angeles, USA

Artist, critic, and curator Mike Kelley’s varied output included performance, films, installations, wall-size drawings, paintings and collaborations with artists such as Paul McCarthy, Tony Oursler, and bands Sonic Youth and Destroy All Monsters (1973-1985). Kelley’s work challenged the legitimacy of “normative” values and authority systems, often employing the confrontational practices of punk music.

In 1978 Mike Kelley graduated from the California Institute of the Arts with a Master of Fine Arts, where he admired the work of his teachers John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson, David Askevold and Douglas Huebler.

Kelley came to prominence in the 1980s with a series of sculptures composed of common craft materials. Featuring repurposed thrift store toys, blankets, and worn stuffed animals, the Half a Man series focused Kelley’s career-long investigation of memory, trauma, and repression, predicated on what the artist described as a “shared culture of abuse.” In more recent years, Kelley’s ambitions widened in conceptual scope and physical scale with Educational Complex (1995), the epic Day Is Done (2005), his Kandors series (2007-2012), and the posthumously completed public work Mobile Homestead (2006-2013), as he addressed architecture, institutions, and “projective reconstruction” using the theory of repressed memory syndrome coupled with (pseudo-)biographic inquiry into his own aesthetic and social formations.

He often sought to legitimize overlooked instances of vernacular art in America, as in his “Kandors” series, in which he cast representations of the fictional city Kandor, taken from earlier Superman comics, in colored resins and set them in tinted glass bottles to resemble illuminated reliquaries. When looking at images of Kandor, Kelley was fascinated to find the city similarly difficult to reconstruct: since its design was never standardized.

“Kandor is the home that can never be revisited, the past that can never be recovered. Yet there it is, shrunken to the size of a dollhouse – an ageless memento in real time.” – Mike Kelley

In October 13, 2013, the largest exhibition of Kelley’s works opened in the MoMA PS1 in New York City. The retrospective included over 200 of his works from the 1970s until his death in 2012. This was the biggest exhibition of any kind that MoMA had organized since 1976.

The Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts was established by the artist in 2008 prior to his death and seeks to further Kelley’s philanthropic work through grants for innovative projects that reflect his multifaceted artistic practice.

Selected public collections:
Museum of Modern Art, New York, USA
Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, USA
Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago, Chicago, USA
Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt, Germany
Tate Britain, London, United Kingdom
Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, Barcelona, Spain

Mike Kelley

  • Mike Kelley - Kandor 20

    Kandor 20
    Mixed media with video
    1 Plinth w/bottle: 137.2 x 96.5 x 96.5 cm
    1 Plith w/city: 104.2 x 96.5 x 96.5 cm
    Plexi sculpture: 204.5 x 243.8 x 106.7 cm
    Mike Kelley, Museum Haus Lange und Mueum Haus Esters, Krefeld: 13 Mar - 19 Jun 2011
    Life on Mars-55th Carnegie International, Carnegie Museum of Art, Pittsburgh: 03 May - 01 Nov 2008
    Jablonka Galerie, Berlin: 29 Sep - 24 Nov 2007
    Mike Kelley: Kandors - Venus Over Manhattan, NY, 2016