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.