The idiosyncratic artist is best known for his work with
found objects that evoke and question memories from youth,
notably 1987's "More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid and the
Wages of Sin," a collection of discarded stuffed animals and
dolls hung on used afghans next to a table of candles.
The exhibition at the city's Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA)
is as moving as it is large. Organizers began assembling the
250-plus-work show in 2008 with Kelley but had to finish it
without him after his death at age 57 in January 2012.
"It was going to be a thematic retrospective that was very much
involved in his participation and collaboration," said Ann
Goldstein, the exhibition's curator and a former artistic
director at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam.
"With his absence there was a feeling that it needed to be a
different kind of show, that maybe because the work was suddenly
brutally finished," Goldstein added.
The show marks not only the first under new director Philippe
Vergne, but it is also a chance for the institution to reboot
itself after funding and leadership troubles in the past year
threw into doubt its future as an independent museum.
Kelley was born in 1954 in suburban Detroit and attended the
University of Michigan before moving to Southern California in
1976 to attend the California Institute of the Arts and later
settling in as a prominent figure in the Los Angeles art scene.
Kelley, working closely with college friend and artist Jim Shaw,
helped form a second generation of post-war Los Angeles artists
in the wake of the pop painting of Ed Ruscha and conceptual art
of John Baldessari, who was Kelley's professor. His death came
as a shock to the art world.
At the center of the retrospective are large-scale works like
"More Love Hours," a view on the idea of commodifying love and
"On a first glance you look at these stuffed animals and you
think they're so cute and adorable, and then you realize they're
kind of filthy, they're kind of tattered, the afghans are kind
of shredded," Goldstein said.
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"You realized that they were all thrown away," she added. "They were
made with this idea of love and this idea of giving and they were
used up and they were tossed, and he wouldn't have gotten them if
they hadn't been tossed away."
Another example of Kelley's large-scale work is 1988's "Pay for
Your Pleasure," an installation of 42 banner paintings hung in a
corridor that feature the face of a prominent historical thinker and
a quote linking art with crime.
Its original unveiling in Chicago had a painting by serial killer
John Wayne Gacy at the end of the corridor with a box asking for
donations to benefit victims' rights groups.
The installation is meant to confront the viewer with esthetic
representations of crime and art by criminals. The donation box
gives the viewer a sense and opportunity for "pay back" as well.
"It (Kelley's work) goes into many disciplines, from drawing,
painting, sculpture, installation, sound, almost architecture," said
Vergne, who began his tenure as MOCA director this month.
"He looked, analyzed and contemplated the way Western culture, not
only American culture, is layered from education to politics to
religion to sexuality," he said.
The exhibition organized by Goldstein, who worked as a curator at
MOCA from 1983 to 2009, first went on display in Amsterdam in
December 2012, making stops in Paris and New York before its final
stop in Los Angeles, where Kelley's risk-taking influence looms
"I think it's very hard to overestimate his importance," she said,
adding: "His passing was so profoundly affecting to so many people,
and that's what is so wonderful about this homecoming."
(Editing by Mary Milliken and Sandra Maler)
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