Mike Kelley: The most important American artist you've never heard of

 

He is one of the most influential American artists of the past 30 years but is almost unknown in the UK.

Now the Tate is attempting to fill a gap in the British public's cultural knowledge with an exhibition devoted to punk-inspired artist Mike Kelley, in advance of the first anniversary of his suicide. Tate Modern is to display some of his video work in the Tanks, the new gallery space dedicated to live and performance art this weekend.

Stuart Comer, film curator at Tate Modern, said: "This is a tribute to him and it is about marking his importance and raising awareness of his work. He was, without question, one of the defining artists of his generation."

While the exhibition focuses on his video installations, Kelley worked in many different mediums, and was known as a pioneer of a movement called "abject art", what ArtInfo described as "highlighting the irrational and the repulsive".

His works included complex sculptures and installations, paintings, photography and performance art and drew on influences from folk, comics and spiritualisms to pop psychology, punk and psychedelia.

Mr Comer said: "Amongst artists he was enormously influential. He was a dominant presence in Los Angeles during the 1990s. London is the only major city in the art world where he does not seem to have a major status."

While he has been shown in the UK, particularly at the ICA, "for whatever reason he has had a different status over here," Mr Comer added. His work may be familiar to Sonic Youth fans as he created the artwork for the 1992 album Dirty.

Mr Kelley grew up in Detroit, and was heavily involved in the punk scene, forming Destroy All Monsters in the early 1970s. He left the band to study at the California Institute of the Arts. He came to prominence in the US with shows at the Whitney and LACMA and his reputation grew throughout the 1990s and after the turn of the century.

Paul Schimmel, the former chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art in LA, told the Los Angeles Times: "LA would not have become a great international capital of contemporary art without Mike Kelley."

Kelley was found dead at his home in Los Angeles in February this year, at the age of 57. Mr Comer said: "His death took everybody by surprise and it affected people heavily. There was an incredible memorial by his studio. I haven't experienced that level of grief in the art world for some time."

Mike Kelley: Portrait of the artist

Artwork for Sonic Youth album Dirty

Kelley was an old friend of Sonic Youth's Kim Gordon, and his knitted creatures featured on the cover of the band's 1992 album.

More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid

The 1987 wall hanging, with stuffed toys and blankets on a canvas, became a signature work.

Reversible Cross

Kelley's sculpture installation of a double-sided felt cross, was created in 1989

Exploded Fortress of Solitude

The 2011 piece, inspired by Superman comics, was part of the Kandors series started in 1999, with small-scale depictions of the superhero's birthplace Kandor.

The Banana Man

The video work, part of the Tate's tribute, saw Kelley pose as the character of a kids' TV show he had never seen. This came the same year as Monkey Island.

Arts and Entertainment
Wonder.land Musical by Damon Albarn

Theatre

Arts and Entertainment

Film review

Arts and Entertainment
Innocent victim: Oli, a 13-year-old from Cornwall, featured in ‘Kids in Crisis?’
TV review
News
Northern exposure: social housing in Edinburgh, where Hassiba now works in a takeaway
books An Algerian scientist adjusts to life working in a kebab shop
Arts and Entertainment
Terminator Genisys: Arnie remains doggedly true to his word as the man who said 'I'll be back', returning once more to protect Sarah Connor in a new instalment

 

film review
Arts and Entertainment

festivals
Arts and Entertainment

Final Top Gear review

TV
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pete Doherty and Carl Barat perform at Glastonbury 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Lionel Richie performs live on the Pyramid stage during the third day of Glastonbury Festival

music
Arts and Entertainment
Buying a stairway to Hubbard: the Scientology centre in Los Angeles
film review Chilling inside views on a secretive church
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Williamson, left, and Andrew Fearn of Sleaford Mods
musicYou are nobody in public life until you have been soundly insulted by Sleaford Mods
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dew (Jess) in Bend It Like Beckham The Musical
theatreReview: Bend It Like Beckham hits back of the net on opening night
Arts and Entertainment
The young sea-faring Charles Darwin – seen here in an 1809 portrait – is to be portrayed as an Indiana Jones-style adventurer
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

    Is this the future of flying?

    Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
    Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

    Isis are barbarians

    but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
    The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

    Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

    Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
    Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

    'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

    Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
    Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

    Call of the wild

    How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
    Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

    'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

    If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
    The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

    The science of swearing

    What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

    The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

    Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
    Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

    Africa on the menu

    Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
    Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

    Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

    The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'
    10 best statement lightbulbs

    10 best statement lightbulbs

    Dare to bare with some out-of-the-ordinary illumination
    Wimbledon 2015: Heather Watson - 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Heather Watson: 'I had Serena's poster on my wall – now I'm playing her'

    Briton pumped up for dream meeting with world No 1
    Wimbledon 2015: Nick Bollettieri - It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve

    Nick Bollettieri's Wimbledon Files

    It's time for big John Isner to produce the goods to go with his thumping serve
    Dustin Brown: Who is the tennis player who knocked Rafael Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?

    Dustin Brown

    Who is the German player that knocked Nadal out of Wimbeldon 2015?
    Ashes 2015: Damien Martyn - 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Damien Martyn: 'England are fired up again, just like in 2005...'

    Australian veteran of that Ashes series, believes the hosts' may become unstoppable if they win the first Test