Mike Kelley’s paintings

Sad news. Brilliant and influential LA artist Mike Kelley (b. 1956 in Detroit), best known for grunge installations, performances, and pioneering exploration of what Jerry Saltz dubbed the “clusterfuck aesthetic,” died this week of an apparent suicide.

In 2009 Kelley turned away from installation and created a rare series of paintings called “Horizontal Tracking Shots,” for an exhibition at Gagosian. The large, multi-part polychrome panels and smaller framed canvases drew from a wide
range of sources including elementary school textbook illustration, domestic d�cor, Modernist abstraction, stage set design, New
Age painting, comic strips, and science-fiction. At the time, critics were cynical (and unimpressed) by Kelley’s dalliance with painting, and few wrote about the show. In later exhibitions he returned to producing the spectacular, jaw-dropping installations that had been so successful.

Acccording to news reports, Kelley had been preparing work for an upcoming show at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam. “He had a deep discomfort in seeing what the art world is now,” curator and ex-partner Emi Fontana told Jori Finkel in the LA Times. “He didn’t like the fact that everything has become so corporate.
He said to me: ‘If I were to start now, I would never become a visual
artist.’…He really wanted to be an important artist, and he worked all of his
life for that. He found himself at the top of his game and then found
that the world he was at the top of was a world that he didn’t like.
That’s intense existentially.”


Mike Kelley, Horizontal Tracking Shot of a Cross Section of Trauma Rooms, 2009, acrylic on wood panels, steel video monitors (on back), DVD players (on back), 96 x 192 x 1 3/4 inches

Mike Kelley, Untitled, 2008-2008, acrylic on wood panels, 100 x 184 1/4 inches

Mike Kelley, Untitled, 2008-2009, acrylic on wood panels, 99 x 179 1/4 inches

 Mike Kelley, ‘Horizontal Tracking Shots,” installation view at Gagosian.

Mike Kelley, Naked Majas (Bettelheims’ Genital), 2008-2009, acrylic on canvas, wood, enamel
70 1/2 x 192 x 4 1/2 inches

Mike Kelley’s website.


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  1. Nice collection of work I hadn't seen before, sadly. Great post, thanks! R.I.P. Mike Kelley.

  2. I liked that show of paintings at Gagosian. The big multi-panel pieces were really good, especially the free standing one with the video elements imbedded.

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