Mike Kelley “Fortress of Solitude” – NEON at the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens
NEON is proud to present the first monographic exhibition of Mike Kelley (1954-2012) in Athens, curated by Douglas Fogle. Fortress of Solitude brings together a range of seminal works from across Kelley’s career in order to reflect on the uncanny psychological homelessness of the contemporary world.
Whether using found stuffed animals as emotional effigies of long lost childhood memories or evoking the psychic homelessness of Superman in the form of Kelley’s reconstructive exploration of the superhero’s inaccessible home city of Kandor that he kept in his Fortress of Solitude, we are reminded that no matter how hard we try, we can’t go home.
Over the course of more than three decades, Kelley used a wide variety of media from painting and sculpture to drawing, video and performance, to explore and critically engage various incarnations of the repressed side – or dark underbelly – of the American cultural unconscious. Kelley often used abject materials and images to attempt to analyse anonymous institutional powers such as the bureaucracy of schools while evoking a certain kind of empathy for the human subject. Whether arranging hand-made thrift store rag dolls in a kind of quasi-psychotherapeutic exercise, creating a mash up architectural model from memory of his high school and childhood home, or creating twisted psychedelic music videos based on photographs of odd extracurricular activities as depicted in American high school yearbooks, Kelley sought to explore how we constantly attempt to create ourselves from our unreliable and unstable memories of our own past.
Kelley grew up in the working class suburbs of Detroit where he was involved with the counterculture scenes of noise and punk rock. Moving from the Midwest to California for graduate school at CalArts, Kelley brought the gritty and contrarian energy of that music scene into a Los Angeles art scene that he helped de ne in the 1980s, alongside Paul McCarthy, Raymond Pettibon, and many others. In Kelley’s mind, no matter how hard we try, we can’t get back to what Bruce Springsteen ironically called our “glory days.”
In one of his last bodies of work Kelley dealt with homesickness by exploring the mythology around the comic book hero Superman with whom the artist was obsessed. In his Kandors series the artist created a group of sculptures built around hand blown glass jars reminiscent of the one that Superman kept in his Fortress of Solitude, his lonely frozen palace in the Arctic. In Superman mythology, Kandor was the capital city of Krypton and had been miniaturized by a villain and encased in a vitreous prison. Superman was able to steal back this reduced version of his home city and keep it as a memento of the world to which he could never return. In Superman’s world, Kandor was an acknowledgement of both the desire to return home and the utter impossibility of achieving that desire.
17 of these historical works are exhibited alongside videos and biographical material researched from the archives of the Mike Kelley Foundation in Los Angeles.
In collaboration with the U.S. Embassy in Athens.
NEON would like to thank the Hellenic Ministry of Culture & Sports for their collaboration.
NEON at the Museum of Cycladic Art, Athens
until 25 February 2018