I’ve been drawing inspiration for some of my monthly posts from an anthology called The 20th Century Art Book. Today I randomly opened to a page featuring the Southern California artist, Mike Kelley. He’s been featured in shows at the Whitney in NY and in a PBS documentary.
By giving new life to once-loved, furry animals Mike Kelley elicits both sympathy at their abandonmebt and annoyance at their sentamentality. Like a delinquent youth, Kelley places his subjects in suggesteive poses or groupings where they hug each other with a kind of blind compassion. He is a rebellious artist whose humorous response to the downside of life finds expression through a slightly kitsch and tasteless style. His attitude of aesthetic disobedience has its roots in his rejection of the social and moral fabric of American culture.
About his work, Kelley has said:
I’m more of a Marxist than a symbolist. Always, my interest in popular forms was not to glorify them because I really dislike popular culture in most cases. I think it’s garbage, but that’s the culture I live in and that’s the culture people speak. I’m an avant-gardist.
We’re living in the post-modern age, the death of the avant-garde. So all I can really do now is work with this dominant culture and flay it, rip it apart, reconfigure it, expose it.
From the PBS documentary:
His work questions the legitimacy of ‘normative’ values and systems of authority, and attacks the sanctity of cultural attitudes toward family, religion, sexuality, art history, and education. He also comments on and undermines the legitimacy of the concept of victim or trauma culture, which posits that almost all behavior results from some form of repressed abuse.
Serious stuff from a pile of stuffed animals. I think this artist’s work is really interesting. The materials taken out of context and used to create social commentary, and the combination of humor and the unexpected is refreshing. I wish there were more examples of his work available to see on the web, but you probably need to see them in person to get the full experience.