Mike Kelley Fills PS1 Down to the Boiler Room

“Art is some sort of interesting area where dysfunction is allowed,” said Mike Kelley in an interview by John Miller in 1992. Dysfunction dominates MoMA PS1’s immense retrospective of Kelley’s work from the 1970’s until his tragic suicide in 2012. First let me say how well the space of an empty public school turned art gallery fits his work that deals with the schooling system and challenges contemporary society. This exhibition felt as if we had entered the mind of one of the most influential, forward-thinking artists of our time.

Image Mike Kelley 1

Mike Kelley in the Boiler Room at MoMA PS1. Photo courtesy of MoMA PS1.

In each of his works we see his profound understanding of our society, of capitalism’s affect on us, of human emotional instinct and of unconscious desire. However, he also understood our culture to the point that he realized the importance of aesthetic appeal. This explains the huge line of people—which doubled in length in 1 hour after I had arrived—outside of the room where the giant masses of fluffy, colorful stuffed animals, Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites hung.

Image Mike Kelley 2

Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites. 1991/1999. Photo courtesy of MoMA PS1. Image courtesy of Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles. Photography: Joshua White/JWPictures.com.

In Kelley’s memory paintings, hanging masses of stuffed animals, floor sculptures and various other works throughout the run down public school, he pulls off the execution of attention-grabbing art objects that have multiple levels of meaning. Without being kitsch or overtly critical his worn down stuffed animal sculptures and memory paintings open the eyes of viewers willing to spend more time with the objects, allowing them to penetrate the surface, and realize somewhat stupefying conditions of our modern consumer society.

As we entered the huge room where his Day is Done installation stands, the sounds of each separate video intermingle with each other creating a cacophony, pulling our attention in every which way. It seemed to me that being in this room could be compared to being in the mind of Mike Kelley. It is both incredibly relevant to our time of overstimulation and indicative of our microscopic attention spans.

Image Mike Kelley 3

Installation view of Day is Done at MoMA PS1. 2013. © MoMA PS1; Photo: Matthew Septimus.

Viewing over 200 of Kelley’s pieces in one space revealed a sort of brilliant chaos that took over his mind, a type of chaos responsible for the constant creation of thought provoking, beautiful, confounding work. Personally I found myself visually/mentally exhausted while simultaneously moved and overwhelmed, even confused, by the time I hit the top floor of PS1.

  • – Olivia Marciano
Categories: Artists, Exhibitions