Musée d’Art moderne
de la Ville de Paris
 
Hauser & Wirth gallery /
LOS ANGELES
 
Mike Kelley
 
 
A retrospective exhibition of Mike Kelley’s work will be presented in Los Angeles, to which the Pinault Collection is contributing the work <i>Kandors Full Set</i> (2005-2009), already exhibited in Venice in 2009 in “mapping the studio”.


<div class="col m-10 pull-right align-right"> <span class="lieu">Hauser & Wirth gallery /</span><br> <span class="lieu">Los Angeles</span> </div> <br> <br> <br> <br> <div class="col m-10"> <span class="title"><i>Kandors</i></span><br><br> <span class="title"><i>Full Set</i></span> </div> <div class="col m-4 auteur pull-right"> <div class="inner"> <div class="white"> <a class="switch">Text</a><br> <b>Colin Lemoine</b><br> <span style="display: none;"> Curator and art critic </span> </div> </div> </div> <div class="clear"><br><br><br></div> <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>First published by DC Comics in 1933, the story of Superman evokes a number of cosmogonic myths and allegories. In 1958, the story took an interesting turn: Superman discovers that Kandor, the capital of the planet Krypton, his birthplace, had not been entirely destroyed, but was stolen by his archvillain Brainiac, who shrank the city and trapped the miniature metropolis in a bottle. Superman eventually hides Kandor in his Fortresse of Solitude, keeping the city safe while he looks for a way to restore it to full size, convinced that he’ll be able, at the right moment, to bring a lost world back to life. Kandor, this concentrate of civilization, captures a moment in time yet embodies future possibilities, since, as the story goes, everything can proceed and be reborn from it. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Mike Kelley (1954–2012) explored this instructive story for twelve years, from 1999, when he created <i>Kandor-Con</i>, to 2011, date of the astonishing <i>Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude)</i>. These technically ambitious miniature cities are placed on pedestals; illuminated from beneath, they radiate an incandescent glow. Versions of the city are presented either enclosed in glass bottles that contain a dense, multicolored smoke, or alongside their corresponding glass bottles. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>By creating these twenty-one towns of colored urethane resin (which looks at times like ice, at times like kryptonite), the artist was able to further explore his interest in spatial memory, which he examined in earlier pieces such as <i>Educational Complex</i> (1995), a gigantic scale-model of every academic institution attended by the artist over the course of his own education; their missing elements, holes, and blank surfaces, correspond to the gaps in the artist’s memory. In the same way, as Kelley explains, “there is no continuity in [depictions of Kandor] in Superman comics. The design of the city was never standardized, and the artists who illustrated the stories over the years depicted it in myriad ways... It was impossible to reconstruct Kandor; various partial and contradictory city views would have to be randomly patched together to create a composite version,” similarly to the way in which a wandering memory allows for different interpretations of the same past event to exist simultaneously. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Either placing them in bottles or leaving them bare to emphasize their serene beauty, Mike Kelley images a range of buried cities of the past and futuristic cities, worlds that have vanished or that are yet to come. With their towers and skyscrapers, the different iterations of Kandor evoke Babylon, Doha, Palmyra, and Metropolis. They are ruins and promises, remnants and omens poetically staged by the artist. Umberto Eco, who wrote some remarkable analyses of Superman, gave a preemptive interpretation of <i>Kandors Full Set</i> (2005–09) in his essay “The Myth of Superman”: “Superman comes off as a myth only if the reader loses control of the temporal relationships and renounces the need to reason on their basis... Since the myth is not isolated exemplarily in a dimension of eternity but in order to be assimilated must enter into the flux of the story in question, this same story is refuted as flux and seen instead as an immobile present.”<sup>1</sup> <br><br> <div class="notes"> 1 — Umberto Eco and Natalie Chilton, “The Myth of Superman,” <i>Diacritics</i> 2, no. 1 (Spring 1972), 19. </div>
 
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
 
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Kandors Full Set</i>, 2005-2009 <br>21 bottles made in hand colored pyrex glass, 8 bottles stoppers, 10 silicone rubbers with 8 urethaned tinted, 21 tinted urethane resin cities, 6 plinths, 20 pedestals <br>Dimensions variables
 
<i>Memory Ware Flat #17</i> by Mike Kelley is on loan from the Pinault Collection to the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris for the exhibition “Medusa, jewellery & taboos.”


<div class="col m-10 pull-right align-right"> <span class="lieu">Musée d’Art moderne</span><br> <span class="lieu">de la Ville de Paris</span> </div> <br> <br> <br> <br> <div class="col m-10"> <span class="title"><i>Memory Ware Flat #17</i></span> </div> <div class="col m-4 auteur pull-right"> <div class="inner"> <div class="white"> <a class="switch">Text</a><br> <b>Anne Dressen</b><br> <span style="display: none;"> Curator of the exhibition </span> </div> </div> </div> <div class="clear"><br><br><br></div> <span class="alinea"></span>Mike Kelley was always deeply interested in exploring neglected cultural practices, intrigued by their emphasis on handicraft and the counterculture. He rejected the rigidity of minimalism and abstraction, the smooth seductions of Pop Art, and the more rugged gestures of Neo-expressionism, embracing instead an exuberant, diverse style. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Born in Detroit in 1954, Mike Kelley moved to Los Angeles in his early twenties to study with conceptual artists Douglas Huebler and John Baldessari, remaining in California for the rest of his life. The multifaceted Kelley was not only an artist but a theoretician specialized in the history of art and philosophy, a musician, curator, collector, and archivist: all these related activities fed his conceptual and performative practice. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Rather than seeking inspiration in works by other artists, Kelley turned to amateur, communal, and popular practices, from which he appropriated objects, images, and techniques. He didn’t ignore the (perhaps unconscious) associations that exist in our collective memory between craft and various minorities—be they social, sexual, or racial—but was instead deeply interested in them for those very reasons. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>His series “Memory Ware Flat”, begun in the early 2000s, is inspired by a Canadian folkloric tradition (Detroit, his hometown, is located right on the border with Canada) of embellishing ordinary household objects, such as vases or ashtrays, with bright buttons, jewels, pieces of ceramic, shells, and other trinkets, adding a decorative, almost baroque touch to objects designed for utilitarian purposes. This practice also borrows from an African-American tradition popular in the South of the United States: the funerary art of “memory vessels” (a term that Kelley adopts in his title for the series), which consists in covering vases or jugs with coins or fragments of broken porcelain and depositing these objects on the graves of loved ones.<sup>1</sup> <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Kelley adapts these techniques to work on a large scale. He borrows a sculptural, rather kitsch popular practice and uses it in his painting, revisiting—and colonizing—the notion of flatness: the flatness of the picture plane, the very paradigm of modern art. His goal was then, in his own words, to “produce a much more spatial—and painterly—effect.”<sup>2</sup> He covered rectangular (and occasionally oval) wooden panels in a neutral base coat, on which he affixed hundreds of cheap, three-dimensional plastic or metal objects borrowed from the American middle class: bracelets and necklaces, watches, buttons, and baubles, whose pastel colors and shiny coatings evoke femininity or childhood, while other objects, such as badges and pins from the boy scouts, schools, universities, or political or religious organizations, convey more direct, while still always highly contextual, messages. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Among the many pieces of jewelry included in these works, we can spot the pink and purple bead necklaces worn during Carnival in New Orleans, which add a performative aspect to the work, a hint of roleplay or disguise, characteristic of the entirety of Kelley’s work but especially apparent in this series. While all these objects were intended to be worn, the physical body is noticeably absent from the <i>Memory Ware Flat</i> works, composed instead of layered and interwoven abstract motifs. The underlying, individual histories of each object, which have passed through the hands of so many different owners, disappear in the resulting work, itself created by multiple hands. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Kelley’s works often incorporate an autobiographical dimension, though they never refer explicitly to the artist’s life: “I wanted just to have this kind of archive of the kinds of things that I grew up with that would have constituted culture to me as like an American living in that place and that time,”<sup>3</sup> he has stated. So the series functions as a kind of time capsule, a sample of the recent past—or, in Kelley’s words, of an “archeological present”<sup>4</sup> —taken at the start of the twenty-first century. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Kelley’s strategies of archiving and borrowing always incorporate a note of irony; the artist has spoken of playing “a joke on nostalgia.” The question of whether or not his work is (in)authentic comes up recurrently, including as it pertains to this series: he is using costume jewelry (although that doesn’t make it <i>fake</i>) that is readymade (not fabricated by the artist himself) and whose sentimental value is illusory (because it is appropriated); Kelley is reusing techniques that are presumably sincere for his own motives, which presumably are not. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>The series also shares some characteristics with outsider art (or Art Brut), including, among others, a horror of emptiness, of the void, and a corresponding strategy of compulsive filling (seen, for instance, in the Facteur Cheval’s Ideal Palace or the Maison Picassiette), created by self-taught artists often inspired by spiritual visions. The <i>Memory Ware Flat</i> also evokes the patterns of certain neo-byzantine or Indian mosaics: updated mandalas, whose new-age designs are anything but geometric, and categorically material in nature. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>If Kelley adopts a posture of removed irony, it isn’t to make fun of popular and naïve esthetics but rather to mockingly point out the contradictions inherent in the notions of bourgeois “good” taste and the so-called “noble” arts. Kelley deliberately chose to create on a large scale and to weigh down his work by pouring cement into objects found in flea markets, perhaps even purchased by the kilo. He literally endows them with additional weight, gives them more space. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>Often working with recycled materials (even going so far as to reuse elements from his previous works) and relying, as part of his conceptual approach, on amateur, non-artistic, and depreciated methods and techniques, typically associated with lower social classes, Kelley poetically and critically deconstructs the world that surrounds us and our value systems. He examines how certain objects become considered works of art and fetishized, but he also mistreats abstract, formalist, supposedly timeless, painting. Several stories coexist in each of his works, all of them of complementary value. <br><br> <span class="alinea"></span>“I hope to problematize my own historicization in the art world,”<sup>5</sup> he explained. Beyond a doubt, he boldly succeeded in this goal.<sup>6</sup> <br><br> <div class="notes"> 1 — With the exception of this series, Kelley did not often explore African-American culture.<br> 2 — Quoted in Emi Fontana, ed., <i>Memory Ware, Wood Grain, Carpet</i> (Milan: Galleria Emi Fontana, 2004). <br> 3 — See the booklet of Kelley’s exhibition at Wiels in 2007.<br> 4 — Ibid. We could also think of spacecrafts such as NASA’s Pioneer 10 or Voyager, which carry into space images of humanity intended for the extraterrestrials they might encounter. Interestingly, the only anthropomorphic work in the “Memory Ware” series happens to be a portrait of astronaut John Glenn (after whom Kelley’s high school was named), as pointed out by Jean Philippe Antoine in his text “Le piquant du fantôme. Mike Kelley historien” in Catherine Perret, ed., <i>Les artistes font des histoires</i> (Paris: Seuil, 2015). <br> 5 — Ibid.<br> 6 — This series can also be compared to another that Kelley entitled, with a certain provocative intent, “Manly craft.” He was sharply criticized by feminist essentialist critics, who saw in those works, in which Kelley appropriated a traditionally feminine artisanal method, yet another example of men’s shocking macho arrogance. But his deliberately ambiguous approach participates in overthrowing established codes and practices, well beyond the scope of political correctness. </div>
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Memory Ware Flat #17</i>, 2001 (detail) <br>Mixed media on wood <br>215,9 x 317,5 x 15,2 cm
 
Mike KELLEY <br><i>Memory Ware Flat #17</i>, 2001 <br>Mixed media on wood <br>215,9 x 317,5 x 15,2 cm
 

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