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Mike Kelley (American, 1954–2012)

About this artist

Source: Oxford University Press

American performance and installation artist. He completed a BFA at the University of Michigan School of Art, Ann Arbor (1972–6), and an MFA at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (1976–8), after which he settled in Los Angeles. As a student at Cal Arts, Kelley was influenced by the conceptual approach taken by teachers such as Jonathon Borofsky, John Baldessari and Douglas Huebler. His intense early performances were also affected by the rock band he formed in late 1974, Destroy All Monsters, and by the stage manner and music of jazz musicians such as Sun Ra. His first acclaimed performance work, staged in Los Angeles in collaboration with David Askevold in 1979, was Poltergeist; it included photographs, objects and black-and-white drawings combining image and text in comic-book style. Subsequent major performances include Monkey Island (1982–3) and Plato’s Cave, Rothko’s Chapel, Lincoln’s Profile (1985). The counter-cultural, critical energy and concentration on themes of dysfunctionality and repression in his early works became more focused in the mid-1980s, when he began working with found objects, specifically soft toys. In 1987 he made More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid (handmade craft items and afghans sewn onto canvas, 2.44×3.22×0.15 m; New York, Whitney), a typically complex reflection on the way such tokens and totems of affection can be invested with desire and repression, and can form part of a person’s psychological development. In contrast to earlier work in which his individuality would be complicated and obscured, biography became increasingly important for Kelley in the 1990s, albeit an openly fabricated biography. In 1995 he produced an architectural model of the institutions in which he had studied, Educational Complex (acrylic, latex, foamcore, fibreglass, wood, 1.22×0.98×0.92 m; New York, Whitney) based on incomplete memories. The sections that were missing suggested areas in which trauma events occurred, referred to by Kelley as ‘repressed space’. By basing his work on a regression to troubled periods in childhood and adolescence, he underlines his view of art as a dysfunctional reality which, through a re-enactment of traumatic events, can have therapeutic ends. He is also known for his extensive writings, which take the form of pieces used within his performances and interpretations of his work, as well as more general art-critical texts.

John-Paul Stonard
From Grove Art Online

© 2009 Oxford University Press

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