Artist Mike Kelley (1954-2012) may be a Detroit native, but he’s certainly made his mark on Los Angeles. After attending CalArts in 1976, he remained in L.A. as both a faculty member and influential, experimental local artist. Some of his work can currently be found in the galleries of LACMA, the Hammer, and of course, MOCA. He was first included in MOCA’S inaugural exhibition in 1983, and the museum has since acquired 37 of his works (he’s also been a part of over 20 of MOCA’s exhibitions). Kelley’s connection to MOCA makes it the perfect destination to display the largest connection of his art ever exhibited, currently on view at MOCA, and is a wonderful way to honor his memory. The pieces are engaging and thought provoking, and the exhibit as a whole certainly reflects the artist’s prestige.
That said, the artist is known for liking to rock the boat by exploring controversial themes in his work, typically through dark humor or critical reflection. His interest in religious systems, sexuality, and traumatic and/or repressed childhood memories quickly becomes apparent in his work, so exercise caution when guiding your young ones through the exhibit. Though plenty of it may very well go over middle schoolers heads, some pieces approach a PG-13 categorization. Consider exploring it as part of a parent’s night out, or taking a quick walk-through to decide for yourself what exactly your young children should see—and what they’ll appreciate.
Some of the most kid-friendly and colorful pieces are concentrated in the Sharon and Thurston Twigg-Smith gallery, located straight through the glass doors when you walk down the stairs and to the right. Here, Kelley has made some art from stuffed animals, either by sewing them together or arranging them just so to tell whatever story he had in mind. Perhaps the most noticeable piece is the memory ware statue of astronaut John Glenn, an integral part of Kelley’s “Blackout”. Pictures are welcome in this part of the exhibit, so feel free to take shots of your kids with this eclectic item.
Some information for art buffs: Kelley honed in on his fascination with childhood to create “Blackout”—the John Glenn statue is based on one that stood in his high school library and is made of debris from the Detroit River. The blown up newspaper clippings, intended to give the work a sense of documentation, are all stories involving local culture between 1968 and 1972.
More of our favorites are located in the farthest back corner of the gallery, where Kelley re-imagined a smaller version of Superman’s hometown in “Kandors”. Kids are sure to be fascinated by both swirling projections and neon installations, and superhero lovers will recognize the city-in-a-bottle motif. Unlike some of the artist’s other work, “Kandors” doesn’t immediately evoke dark humor or much of a heavy message. Though the mythical city of Kandor calls attention to Superman’s childhood, the reconstruction of ten different versions of the city are more a testament to the concept of memory and its inconsistency. Interestingly, no concrete image of Kandor was ever agreed upon in the Superman comic books.
The Mike Kelley exhibit will be at MOCA until Monday, July 28.