Twenty years after its creation, Mike Kelley’s 1999 ‘Unisex Love Nest’ will be presented in the late artist’s hometown for the very first time when it fills Hauser & Wirth’s stand at the inaugural Frieze Los Angeles fair. Inspired by a photograph of an idealized child’s bedroom that Kelly found in the mass market magazine First for Women, this seminal installation work has been widely exhibited throughout Europe, including presentations at the Staatliche Kunsthalle, Germany, and Kunstmuseum Bergen, Norway.
‘Unisex Love Nest’ draws upon themes and imagery from storybooks and fairytales, ornamenting a white-walled space with floral decals, lacy curtains, throw pillows, plush animals, and birdhouses, while hinting at repressed fantasies and burgeoning sexual desires, and testing conventional concepts of gender.
Marc Payot, Partner and Vice President, Hauser & Wirth, remarked:
‘The inauguration of Frieze Los Angeles is a perfect moment to celebrate the wider story of this remarkable city as a global art capital, a place that has inspired its artists toward innovations that have, in turn, shaped artmaking worldwide. We are very proud to be the home of a number of outstanding LA artists and foundations, including the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. His prolific art practice seems impossible to imagine without the context of Los Angeles, this ultimate American city of reinvention, where images and dreams become cultural products that mirror the times. It’s a great honor to present Kelley’s ‘Unisex Love Nest’ for the first time in the place where it was conceived.’
About ‘Unisex Love Nest’
Seared into every adult’s mind is the memory of his or her own childhood dwelling – a memory that inevitably resurfaces upon entering Kelley’s ‘Unisex Love Nest.’ His constructed environment takes as its starting point a statement from the original magazine source: ‘They’re only young once, so take this opportunity to give them a room they’ll remember forever.’
At a time when stereotypical gender roles for children were still largely unchallenged, Kelley foreshadowed a reversal of the prevailing binary paradigm by creating a child’s room as a multi-purpose, gender neutral retreat for all. ‘Unisex Love Nest’ subverts the image of a clean, perfected world through its seemingly innocent colloquial charm. The artist investigated similar concepts in the sculpture ‘Framed and Frame…’ (1999), which explores and confronts his memory of sexual exploration with childhood friends amongst the dust bunnies under his bed. Both ‘Framed and Frame’ and ‘Unisex Love Nest’ both tap into the regression and fantasy endemic to pubescent experiences and private spaces.
Within ‘Unisex Love Nest,’ a vintage television plays a feature-length video titled ‘Cross Gender/Cross Genre’ (1999), a compilation of period crossgender-related films, including documentation and interviews, presented as part of ‘Re-Make/Re-Model: Secret Histories of Art, Pop, Life, and the Avant-Garde,’ a symposium dedicated to queer aesthetics held in Graz, Austria in 1999.
Ultimately, ‘Unisex Love Nest’ functions as a portal: transporting the viewer back and forth between a memory of their seemingly innocent childhood surroundings and the space they presently inhabit, rife with awkward yet potent sexual undertones.
About Mike Kelley
Over the course of his four-decade career, Kelley produced a provocative and rich oeuvre that conflates the highest and lowest forms of popular culture in a relentless critical examination of social relations, cultural identity, and systems of belief. Through an extensive variety of media, including drawing, painting and sculpture, video and photography, performance, music, and a formidable body of critical writing, Kelley sought to reveal the unexpected connections and contradictions of the American vernacular.
During his adolescence in a working class suburb of Detroit, Kelley engaged with a counterculture that subverted his hometown conventional American lifestyle. In 1976, Kelley left home to pursue his master’s degree at the California Institute of the Arts (CalArts) in Los Angeles and remained in LA until his untimely death in 2012. Alongside his indelible contribution to contemporary art, Kelley frequently collaborated with fellow Angelenos including Paul McCarthy. Furthermore, his rich dialogue with the contemporary art scene in LA produced a series of landmark writings, teachings, and curatorial projects, which became touchstone references for the burgeoning LA art scene. While Kelley investigated subjects as varied as educational politics, sexuality, religion, and post-punk ideology, he dedicated the last years of his life to examining pop psychology and repressed memory through an array of cultural references.