Thursday, February 2, 2012

Mike Kelley Kills Himself

Mike Kelley died of an apparent suicide in his bathtub a few days ago in Southern California. He was perhaps the most influential artist to emerge in the 1980s.   His progeny spread far and wide especially in the 1990s when his brand of the art of the abject was celebrated all over the world.  My own take on Kelley's art was that it bore the same relationship to art-making as snuff films did to the world of cinema.  Except that Kelley's was a world of make believe gross out juvenilia with a patina of filth thrown in along with the punk guise of Darby Crash.  The collectors and curators ate it up.  Why own something slick and austere and beautiful when you can announce your own dark/alt side by owning a gen-yoo-ine Mike Kelley.  Are you a boring haute bourgeois hedge fund investor?  Not anymore, not with with that creepy looking Kelley doll with pus coming out of every orifice in the living room.  The guys at the office will think I'm positively edgy!  

His curios were inspired by many trips to the now defunct AMOK book store the former Los Angeles emporium for the study of the bizarre, ugly and the unsettling.  Kelley's work was a practiced detached engagement with these subjects but he ultimately could not avoid trivializing them.  He tried to make the muck cute; reveling in it while simultaneously dismissing it.  He was always superior to his subjects.

In the meantime, I look forward to seeing the wonderful art of that other Kelly in a few weeks when I will be in Los Angeles.  You know, the 88 year-old guy running around with an oxygen tank but still making achingly beautiful art with his spare language of color and form? The guy that the likes of Kelley in his black leather jacket have been launching spitballs at all his career from the back of the class.  Rest in peace Mike Kelley along with all those demons and all those spitballs.

21 comments:

  1. Sad, uninformed take on the art and passing of Mike Kelley. Amazing that a person with so little knowledge and insight had their dribble posted here. Luckily for us all, the work of Mike Kelley will outlive us and continue to inspire the next generations.

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  3. Mike Kelley's tragic passing poses once again the age old question: Is success everything? Mike was highly respected, internationally successful, and financially well-off. But despite all the outward trappings of worldly achievement, behind closed doors Mike was sadly bereft of anything truly satisfying, and had come to lament the proverbial box he had painted himself into; MIke Kelleuy the ground breaking artist destroyed all monsters except the one lurking within. The ultimate irony is that the conventions and cliches Mike pathologically avoided in his art ended up defining his last performance, for there is no greater cliche among tortured artists than suicide. Is success everything? Apparently not, and the loss is ours.

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  5. I can say with confidence that Max's opinion of Mike Kelly is not shared by anyone else in the art community, the collector community or the average person interested in art.

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    1. Then, you are sincerely deluded. Max's critique is dead-on.

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    2. Wow Shark, you are delightfully stupid, uninformed and wrong, but you got them insights!

      What is particularly humorous about folks like yourself trying to characterize Mike Kelley as a maker of 'rebellious junk' is that he happens to have some of the most diverse, if not the most diverse, body of work of any contemporary artist. Yes, he has stuffed animals with oozing orifices, but then he also has pieces that are just simply, stunningly beautiful.

      Maybe you could make your argument about, say, Paul Mccarthy, but saying it about Mike Kelley really makes you look like a fool.

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  6. Let me see if I can help Max out here. If Mike Kelly had never influenced an art movement I think I might like his work better. The whole re- context of the thrift store doll thing has so taken over the art world it’s created inflation for toy junk at every swap meet in the world.
    The irony of consumer discards being used as rebellious social commentary when you’re young starving artist is great, but when the hedge funds investors make your work a high-end office commodity I can see why he felt unhappy about his influence on the artistic landscape. Being enriched by the people who are out to destroy the middle –class is enough to make any lefty rebel question the meaning of his life’s work.
    In the end when your contribution to society is humor in the guise of cuteness gone dirty, what beauty have you really put into the world? The snickering celebration of the ugly goes to the heart of what’s wrong with contemporary art. I’m no Pollyanna, but I wish we could have more balance in the art world, more sincere beauty than so much snarky ugly. There is more to life than giving Mad magazine an enema.

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    1. Your defense is entirely too reductive in its understanding of Mike Kelley's work. You want to render him down to a thrift store doll and a snark artist, a purveyor of "humor in the guise of cuteness gone dirty." In reality, his work was complicated, expansive, incredibly intellectual, and almost radiantly beautiful in its sensitivity and self-examination. He did not make ugly for the sake of ugly (and since when is ugly not allowed to communicate sincere beauty?). He was not snarky. Read his words if you want to truly understand his work; there are plenty of them out there--more than most artists, he felt a compulsion to explain and contextualize. And what I find contemptible in Max's post is his dancing on Kelley's grave the day after his death--is this demonstrably different that launching a spitball from the back of the class (as he put it) or the snickering celebration of the ugly (as you put it)?

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    3. I do agree with both quotes above. I don't know how many times stuffed animals became reinvented during my undergraduate and graduate programs. I know Mike Kelly was far more then stuffed animals...but lets face it stuffed animals became a greatest hit...perhaps, because it was the most universally acceptable piece that he did. Also, the problem with the stuffed animal piece is that it has deflated Mike Kelly to being merely childish among staunch critics...when he was so much more. Probably the toughest criticism of Mike Kelly reduces all of his analysis and investigation into being just childish. Which it is...but the world could use more of that.

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  8. I've become a little more familiar with this persona since his death yesterday. I didn't know him. But, from what I've read, I thoroughly believe he would say you and everyone else is full of bullshit.
    Find peace where and when you can.

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  9. Your piece about MIke has the tone and content of the bitter, failed and jealous artist, a quick look at your website confirms it.

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    1. xoxnic,
      While this is not an appropriate time to pick apart Mr. Kelly's career, your comment about the bloggers' website giving evidence to a failed and bitter artist does not make any kind of sense to me. Max has a history that includes exhibitions, reviews and a body of work. Please explain what you find so slight and thin (other than his lack of "big-time" fame) about Max's career?

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  10. You're trying to reduce Kelley to some two-bit Hirst or Jeff Koons imitation. The work might be irritating or apparently trivial at times, but the reality is that he was an extremely clever man, who engaged quite seriously with the movements that came just before him (conceptual art, 70s feminist art, pop and performance art). It all does have a solid theoretical grounding if you look closely at it; Hirst and later shock artists like Terence Koh are much flimsier by comparison.

    In a phrase, I guess I'd say: Ellsworth Kelly and "pure" art are fine, but what about the stumbling toward death, the filth and grime, that artists like that attempt to transcend? There's a place for both. For example: you happened to be at that Armory show a few years ago, taking in the fine and the beautiful, your own excrement might just be preserved in his and Paul McCarthy's giant buttplug. It's your unwitting signature and seal of approval just as much as your own post here is not.

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  11. I have enjoyed everyone's comments. Charles Ray is an artist from the same generation and milieu (as MK) and he is a very good artist, in fact a great artist. And he has nothing in common with Ellsworth Kelly.

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  12. I think he was and is (thanks to the idea of works left behind) a brillant artist and it drives me toward the idea of suicide. I mean how many? How wonderful to check out of the hotel California when you want to. . .. R.I.P. brtillant, brave , genius artist Mike.

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  14. This guy is obviously a moron and probably friends with Howard Stern...who thinks German Expressionism was designed by Hitler. German Expression was designed by jews during World War I germany. Howard Stern how did such an idiot get be so famous? Probably from shmutzing with Spielberg. This is the kind of Critic that embodies the Greenberg vision of Modernism and art. All art must be this, this, this and this. Even Jan Tschichold wrote that Modernism was fascism on his death bed. If you embrace apple pie fascism this critic is for you.

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