As de Kooning said, “You make a painting about a crazy world, and they say it was made by a crazy artist.” This prescient statement could easily apply to the work of Mike Kelley.
When his collages of stuffed animals were interpreted as evidence of childhood abuse and repressed memory syndrome, Kelley took the ball and ran with it, going so far as to equate his memory of CalArts’ basement level with the imagined tunnels beneath the McMartin Preschool. In a selection of photo editions at Patrick Painter, Kelly ups the ante with a tour of the monuments of the Detroit neighborhood of his youth, transforming the ramshackle interior of an abandoned house or a burnt out homeless encampment into evidence of something more sinister.
Today, competing schools of psychologists debate the merits (or existence) of Repressed Memory Syndrome vs. False Memory Syndrome. Still, when one sees Kelley's photograph of Edison's Last Breath (captured in a glass vial, and on display at Detroit's Henry Ford Museum) one can't help but imagine the impact of the uncanny on Kelley's impressionable youth.
In another series, thirty-four cave formations are given names that evoke the real world—turning stalactites into a frozen waterfall—Kelly cautions us of our ability to contrive things that aren’t really there.Detail from Mike Kelley's Photo Show Portrays the Familiar, 2001
One of 26 gelatin silver prints 16x20
The third series on display provides a variation on the themes covered in his extravaganza, Day is Done. Kelley's videographic inventions (shot in the locations of his own educational experience) are based on found high school yearbook photographs. These were then combined with museum-sized installations. This more diminutive version cobbles together the found photos with mastheads of newspapers from the various towns Kelley has lived in. The text in this series seems to come from either Kelly's repressed (and wonderfully perverse) id, or a local newspaper's restaurant reviews. Perhaps the incongruity of the two types of text is meant to point out the chasm between what the artist creates and what the reviewer experiences and writes about.
Point taken. I'll shut up now.
The Bashful Elephant
Detail from Mike Kelley's The Poetry of Form: Part of an Ongoing Attempt to Develop an Auteur Theory of Naming, 1985/96
One of 34 gelatin silver prints with mat 16x12