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The spirit of Mike Kelley still lurks in the air
lesprit-de-mike-kelley-rode-toujours - ARTACTIF
January 2024 | Reading time: 19 Min | 0 Comment(s)

About the "Mike Kelley - Ghost and Spirit" exhibition, on view until 19 February 2024 at the Bourse de Commerce in Paris.

Talking about Mike Kelley is not going to be a smart-alecky thing to do, given that his art, rooted in the counter-culture of the American West and blending every conceivable medium, is as impossible to synthesise as it is difficult to interpret univocally! I want to encourage you to visit the retrospective exhibition currently on show at the Bourse de Commerce in Paris. Just to see things a little more clearly. Or rather not. To stay within the artistic blur, but to experience a whole host of different emotions in the midst of works of art that, more often than not, don't make any sense. And to better appreciate the real talent of this artist, immensely admired by his peers, by immersing yourself in the profusion of substantial sets, films and other rarities that make up the chronological tour. The spirit of Mike Kelley runs through the exhibition.

Blending the world of popular culture with the erudite references of scholarly culture, Mike Kelley's work takes every form and employs every technique: drawing, painting, sculpture, installation, performance, heterogeneous objects, photography, video, sound creation and more.

The "Mike Kelley - Ghost and Spirit" exhibition is the highlight of the Bourse de Commerce's series of exhibitions on "American Mythologies". The show by the Californian artist, who was born on 27 October 1954 and died by suicide on 31 January 2012, is a dazzling extension of the fine exhibitions by Lee Lozano, Mira Schor and Ser Serpas that have previously taken place under the dome of the prestigious rotunda, which has been devoted to contemporary art since it was bought in 2016 by François Pinault, a wealthy businessman and one of the greatest demiurges of the contemporary art market. The exhibition is being organised in partnership with Tate Modern in London, K21 in Düsseldorf and Moderna Museet in Stockholm, where it will of course continue after its Paris debut.

It's true, Mike Kelley is still relatively unknown to the general public. Which, when all's said and done, seems rather logical to me, given that we're talking about a punk prince of the American underground... But he was also a committed teacher who left his mark on a whole generation of artists, and his pals were Paul McCarthy, Jim Shaw, Tony Oursler, Cary Loren, Lynn Rovner and Sonic Youth, which proves, if proof were needed, just how much he was respected in the world of contemporary art and counter-culture. The melancholy utopia of this unrivalled visual artist, musician and performer, whose works of art can draw as much inspiration from childhood as from popular art, from politics as from Greek philosophers... lights up the heart of the Bourse de Commerce like fireworks, the rotunda where you enter before the Salon and the upper galleries. Spread out like a multicoloured cloud, the cloistered models that Mike Kelley had imagined for Kandor City, Superman's birthplace, immediately plunge visitors into another dimension. And it's spectacular.

What Mike Kelley called the "minor histories" of his practice also emerge in the course of the exhibition. Drawings, photographs and preparatory writings offer visitors the chance to follow the artist's thinking. And I love that. I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned, delving into the mind of a contemporary artist is the only way I've found to expand my own and appreciate his or her works of art for sale. To untangle the countless threads that are pulled through it all at once. "Mike Kelley's work has always been nourished by subcultural references and a tension between the depth of the critical thought he developed and the apparent superficiality of a pop aesthetic that sometimes plays on seduction, or a trash aesthetic. He never ceased to question the role of the artist and the way in which he appears or disappears", explains Jean-Marie Gallais, curator of the Pinault Collection and curator of the exhibition at the Bourse de Commerce. "A visionary, Mike Kelley was a great explorer of notions that are still relevant today in the heat of contemporary debates: collective and individual memory, gender and social class relations, etc. The artist from Detroit (Michigan) is particularly interested in the way in which individual subjectivity is shaped by family and institutional power structures within post-modern capitalist American society.

For Judicaël Lavrador, journalist at Beaux Arts Magazine, Mike Kelley is of course a "enfant terrible", who has left behind him an art that is "a skein of obsessions, questions and intuitions about childhood, adolescence and the memories that all of us, one by one, but above all collectively, retain of them". Her art is "hard-hitting, funny and as tragic as her suicide". She's right: this wide-ranging exhibition at the Bourse de Commerce is steeped in the atmosphere of disquieting strangeness that Mike Kelley was so fond of creating, in the image of the highly irrational world he inhabited. "Music, architectural models, sculptures, installations steeped in supernatural beliefs, popular iconography and practices, superheroes and fluffy dolls, discarded objects and underexposed prints - everything that fleshes out Mike Kelley's work simultaneously borders it. And they open trap doors, tunnels like caves where the sometimes comical ghosts of the unconscious lurk", she wrote in her November article on Kelley.

The man who had been repudiated by his father when he chose to become an artist, who had begun to make a name for himself with neo-Dada performances that were as absurd as they were deafening, who loved creating derisory pieces that had nothing to do with art, such as birdhouses with instructions, painting on sheets, making dolls or incorporating junk objects into cement, never missed an opportunity to question the aesthetic, moral and cultural canons. Parodying catechism lessons and mocking the holy word of the entertainment and advertising industries, Mike Kelley was quickly identified as an artist of the West Coast counter-culture, in the same league as Raymond Pettibon, Tony Ousler, Jim Shaw and Richard Jackson...". But his dolls, little foetuses of fabric and stuffed wool, remain his most famous incarnations of childhood and his imaginary projects," says the Beaux Arts Magazine journalist. "The series entitled Half a Man lends these cuddly toys a pitiful state, the ability to squabble and a gender that is impossible to identify. It's as if they embody a third sex and have a life of their own. L'enfance de l'art.


Valibri en RoulotteArticle written by Valibri en Roulotte

Illustration : Mike Kelley, Kandors

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