to beauty: A Tribute to Mike Kelley
Arts Miami with Anthony Japour
On January 31st, 2012 a year ago, American artist Mike Kelley tragically committed suicide at the age of 57. Regarded as one of the most important American artists of the quarter century with more than 100 solo exhibitions worldwide. A video installation and works from the Craig Robins Art Collection are presently installed at the Frost Museum.
Double Horizontal Chaste Form (Unfolded) of the Land-O-Lakes Girl Illustrated with the Image of the Land-O-Lakes, 1996
Acrylic on wood
44 x 118 inches
Collection of Craig Robins, Miami, FL
Upright and Inverted Form
A/Upright Chaste Form (Unfolded and Debuttered) of the Land-O-Lakes Girl B/Inverted (Sexualized) Chaste Form (Unfolded) Illustrated with the image of the Spit-into Pumpkin Containing the name of the Lost Love (High Priestess), 1996
Acrylic on wood
Each panel: 55 x 44 inches
Collection of Craig Robins, Miami, FL
The Banana Man, 1983
full video: 28:15 min, color, sound
The Patricia & Philip Frost Art Museum
Florida International University, Miami
Mike Kelley (1954-2012, American)
Mike Kelley’s virtuosity ranges from highly symbolic and ritualistic performance pieces and installations including the highly memorable installation A Voyage of Growth and Discovery in collaboration with artist Michael Smith which I had the opportunity to see some years ago at The Sculpture Center in Long Island, Queens, to textile-animal sculptures, and wall-sized drawings. Kelley was a student and admirer of John Baldessari (see September 2012 column) at the California Institute of the Arts and collaborated with many in the art world including artists such as Paul McCarthy and Tony Oursler, with whom his work is most closely associated. While he came from a blue-collar background in Detroit, Michigan and was often referred to as the “bad boy” in art or part of a movement called abject art, he rejected these labels as comments by those who felt his work did not fit into what was considered “acceptable” art production at the time. Subjects he attacked included the legitimacy of ‘normative’ values and systems of authority, along with the sanctity of cultural attitudes toward sexuality, family, religion, and art history more broadly. Punk music figured prominently.
One of Kelley’s continuing series is the Kandors, begun in 1999 and continued through 2011 are representations of the comic book and television superhero, Superman’s city of birth, the only remaining part of his home planet, Krypton. According to Superman lore, Superman saved the miniaturized city in a bottle fed by a tank of atmosphere. Kelley created multiple versions in colorful resins and illuminated like reliquaries. I had the opportunity this past summer to see Kandor 13, 2007 at the Watermill Center in the Hamptons.
The Frost Museum exhibition centers on one of Mike Kelley’s most personal and revealing videos, Banana Man, 1983. Writes Kelley: "This is my only truly solo video project. The tape is an exploration of character and was done in direct reaction to my performance work at the time, which was characterless. Video seemed a good way, by virtue of it not operating in 'real' time, of dealing with character and psychological motivation. 'The Banana Man' was a minor figure on a children's television show I watched in my youth. I, myself, never saw this performer. Everything I know about him was told to me by my friends. The Banana Man is an attempt at constructing the psychology of the character — problematized by the fact that the character is already a fictional one, and by the fact that none of my observations were direct ones."
Another of the works on display at the Frost Museum is Double Horizontal Chase Form (Unfolded) of the Land O’ Lakes Girl Illustrated with the Image of the Land O’Lakes, 1996 based on his long-standing infatuation with the image on the Land O’ Lakes butter package with the so-called Land O’ Lakes Girl; apparently this is the first picture Kelley can remember finding sexually intriguing- “much more riveting than the soft-core photos of nudes found in the pages of Playboy magazine, and more palatable than the hard-core pornographic photos which I initially saw printed on the back of playing cards...While the image of the Land O’ Lakes Girl is not pornographic in any sense, it lends itself to a kind of mildly sexual visual punning. The Land O’Lakes Girl is an “Indian maiden”. She kneels, facing the viewer, dressed in fringed buckskin, and demurely holds in front of her breasts the very butter package on which she is pictured. When this image is folded, her knees can be positioned in such a away as to resemble nippleless bare breasts hanging over the top of a grassy knoll. This pictorial manipulation was the source of much amusement to lads of my generation.”
The opening of the newly expanded Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam in December 2012 was marked with the first comprehensive survey attempted since 1993 and will travel subsequently to the Centre Pompidou, Paris, MoMA PS1, New York, and the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles.
In May 2013, Emi Fontana, the artist’s long-time gallerist and former girl friend will curate with Andrea Lissoni at Hanger Bioca, Milan, Mike Kelley. “Eternity is a long time” which will offer a glimpse of the artist’s complex and multilayered practice, aiming at its core more than to its vastness with a focus on Mike Kelley at the turn of the millennium and the following years, a particularly happy and accomplished season in the creative life of the artist.