On a slow Friday afternoon the program from the Mike Kelley exhibition at MoMA PS1 keeps catching my eye. I’ve been resisting the urge to write about it here (cos: work) but I can resist no longer. It was one of the most extraordinary exhibitions I’ve ever seen.
The enormous space that is MoMA PS1 in Queens NYC was brimming with Kelley’s stuff, scribbles, sketches, drawings, words, paintings, photographs, sculptures, installations, videos – such exuberance, so much STUFF. Imagination gone wild and yet contained in this incredible range of media.
What took me there was actual stuff: an installation made of stuffed animals, colour coded and so terribly poignant (I still have the stuffed panda my grandmother sent me when I was born).
But what blew my mind and completely undid me was a series of works inspired by Superman and Sylvia Plath, including a video of Superman reciting selections of The Bell Jar and other works by Sylvia Plath. The conflation of Superman’s superhuman solitude, aloneness, otherness, his alien city, with Plath’s words, the claustrophobic containment of the bell jar, depression, suicide … was overwhelming. Devastating. I can’t stop thinking about it.
This is how the program introduced Mike Kelley:
‘Widely regarded as one of the most influential artists of our time, Mike Kelley (1954-2012) produced a body of deeply innovative work mining American popular culture and both modernist and alternative traditions – which he set in relation to relentless self and social examinations, both dark and delirious.
‘Born in Detroit, Michigan, Kelley lived and worked in Los Angeles from the mid 1970s until his death at the age of 57. Over his 35-year career, he worked in every conceivable medium – drawings on paper, sculpture, performance, music, video, photography and painting – exploring themes as diverse as American class relations, sexuality, repressed memory, systems of religion and transcendence, and post-punk politics, to which he brought both incisive critique and abundant, self-deprecating humor.’
His mining of American popular culture is what I loved so much. And how apt these words he mined from Balzac.