Multiplex: Directions in Art, 1970 to Now

Mike Kelley. Untitled. 1990

Found afghans and stuffed dolls, 6” x 20’ 5” x 52” (15.2 x 622.3 x 132.1 cm). Gift of the Louis and Bessie Adler Foundation and purchase. © 2018 Mike Kelley

NARRATOR: Mike Kelley, speaking in 2000:

MIKE KELLEY: This was one of the very last works I made using found, homemade craft items. There was a general tendency amongst a number of New York artists at that time, to try to capture the look of the brand new manufactured object. There was a lot of focus on advertising, newness, commodification, those terms. So I was trying to think of a different way to approach commodity, that didn’t have to do with the look of newness. I became really interested in the idea of the gift. So I started collecting things that are obviously hand made, and that weren’t made to be sold. Hand knitted afghans and hand sewn stuffed animals and things I knew that were designed to be given away.

And then, I tried to come up with various ways of presenting them that I felt would focus on them as a kind of commodity. And I did that through accumulation. That when you see one of these things you can sort of, see it as a gift, but when you see 50 of them, you recognize that it’s a certain kind of prescribed gift, and that interested me very much. So this particular one, it’s four afghans of different patterns, in a row, and then I found hand-made dolls of similar patterned materials, and set them on top of them. There was no narrative. There was nothing that pointed towards the home, towards children, towards any of the things that people always wanted to project upon the materials. All you saw was simply something that looked like patterned painting, and a relationship between a three-dimensional object and a two-dimensional surface.

It’s meant to be read really simply. It’s what you see is what you get. And so I was trying to get people to see that these were just materials, but it was a complete and dismal failure. People could only see all these emotive things in it. Either they represented some kind of perfect childhood or the home, or they represented the opposite, some kind of dysfunctional childhood and childhood abuse. People started projecting that onto me, and so I simply gave up using such materials.

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