Tuesday, February 4, 2014

You Are What You Steal (Mike Kelley at MOMA PS 1, Part Three)

(This is Part Three in a series of responses to Mike Kelley's retrospective at MOMA PS 1 in New York City.  The show is amazingly thorough, and Mike Kelley was so amazingly prolific, I can't just write one post and move on.) 
"Memory Ware" is a series of "paintings" Mike Kelley did in the early 2000s, using trinkets and other crap in place of splattered paint in a sort of Jackson-Pollock flourish that feels both aesthetic and anti-aesthetic, the exact nexus where Kelley's work foams over into mythology.  These large, voluptuously stupid pieces of art really seem like toss-offs and yet the room they occupy had a heavenly, game-show majesty, a feeling of fever and brute-force and also somehow poetic justice.  These works reference folk art's intense focus on non-focus, as well as nervous doodling numbness, a pile of gaudy activity shored up and frozen, completely meaningless and yet chief among the suite's narrative statements is an exclamation of freedom and embarrassing pride:  Look what the fuck I shoplifted. 
These are tabula-rasa trash piles, paragraphs of plastic bracelets and digital wrist-watches and little dumb dolls, the shit that spills out of vending machines after a shooting spree, all of it compiled and composted into a manifesto about what it takes to not be an artist.  The pretend opulence is pre-teen drag-queen, an over-arching innocence spilling out of the hoarded phoniness.  You are what you steal. 
Think of kids dumping their bags of Halloween candy on living room floors.
Think of Paris Hilton's bedroom after she throws a tantrum.
Think of polluted rivers starting to sing Carpenter's songs.
Think of a tornado sucking in a Liberace chandelier and spitting out a monument..
Think of Mike Kelley painstakingly gluing all that goddamn shit and then framing it all in with tender loving care and knowing that's all there is.