Unforgotten Mike Kelley

maxwell williams
Apr 17, 2013 8:32AM

Though he was born in Detroit, Los Angeles claims Mike Kelley, one of the most important artists of his generation, as one of our own. He passed away in January 2012, leaving behind a career that spanned decades of incredible art. His new show in Milan is a look at some of his lesser known work.

In late July of 2010, curator Emi Fontana floated around West of Rome's, her public art non-profit, benefit dinner, which was being held in Kelley and Michael Smith’s epic exhibition A Voyage of Growth and Discovery.

The video/performance/sculptural installation—a casual critique of the infantile nature of human gatherings with Burning Man used as a literal backdrop—was held in the Farley Building, a reverberant, windowless, cavernous former storage facility in the Eagle Rock neighborhood of Los Angeles. The benefit was a hoot, with Kelley himself doing a wild drum performance. It would be one of Kelley’s last performances; a year-and-a-half later, Kelley would take his own life.

The work Kelley left behind is phenomenal; the gaping hole he left in the Los Angeles art world will never, ever come close to being filled. He was never afraid to hold his tongue or skewer some mishandled idea, and a lot of his work is scathing, biting, and critical. But that very same work, it’s very funny, too, as if he was just joshing the whole time. And there’s other work, like his unfinished “Mobile Homestead,” in which a replica of his childhood home would be built next to the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit and would act as a weird sort of community center that would be the mailing address for Detroit’s homeless population and a free barbershop, that gave away a gentle, humble spirit.

Fontana worked with Kelley for a long time. They had dated, and when they stopped doing that, they worked very well together. She knows his practice as well or better than any curator in the world. It’s fitting that she’s curating Mike Kelley: Eternity Is A Long Time (opening May 23rd), an exhibition of some of Kelley’s most substantial works at HangarBicocca, a new space opened in Fontana’s birthplace of Milan by Italian tire manufacturer Pirelli. "It's just 10 works,” the curator says over the phone, “but they're all really big and important installations from 2000 and 2006."

The show in Milan is one that Fontana holds near and dear to her heart. “There’s one piece that’s almost never been seen,” she says of Profondeurs Vertes, an installation originally shown at the Louvre in 2006. “I’m really attached to this piece. It’s about masculinity, castration, fear. It was kind of forgotten.”

It’s Fontana’s hope that people will pop over to Milan to see the exhibit before heading to Venice for the Biennale, which opens a week later.

The works shown in the slide show are not from the exhibition.

maxwell williams