Gagosian’s Transformation of Materiality at Mike Kelley’s Retrospective

by Chelsea Corcoran

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An analysis of Mike Kelley’s retrospective at MoMa PS1 provides insight into the role galleries can play in artistic production. Prior to his representation at Gagosian, Kelley’s materials created a sense of authenticity through their folksy aesthetic. However, after his being picked up by Gagosian, there is a transformation of materiality as the works begin to exhibit a sense of perfection that only a team of provided studio assistants and outside funds can allow for. His early work, such as his final graduate exhibition at Cal Arts, shows him freely tapping into his ideas of repression, for which he uses imperfect domestic materials. Kelley creates birdhouses reminiscent of Gustav Stickley in their return to simple craftsmanship, congruent to his peers at CalArts.

Kandor ProjectsKelley’s Kandor Projects exemplify the influence of the Gagosian Gallery and a loss of homemade authenticity. Though in accordance with his interest in nostalgia, the works are too streamlined and over-rendered. Kandor Projects focus on superman’s home planet that he kept shrunken and frozen in a glass case. Kelley creates various “kandors” in the form of projections, bright electric models on top of large metallic black rocks, and glowing lava lamp-type creations. There is no evidence of craftsmanship that previously permeated his works.
Educational Complex Additionally, Educational Complex, an expansive model of all schools Kelley has been involved with, is a methodical architectural feat devoid of all previous sense of folk. Even the pristine white color represents the erasure of Kelley’s homemade aesthetic and creates a new blank slate.

It must be remembered that one of most artists’ goals, even for Mike Kelley, is to sell their work. Perhaps the new modes of creation Gagosian allowed Kelley to access should be appreciated for their innovation. Conversely, Gagosian wants their artists to create works that increase their market share, that are sought after, as any gallery does. Ultimately, their influence is based in the arena of profit rather than for the purpose of expression, thus influencing Kelley to create more streamlined, “finished works” that contradict the authenticity of his earlier found objects.

Chelsea Corcoran is a first-year MA candidate in Art History at Hunter College. 

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