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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Rhino Doodle by Jim Carter (Downton Abbey)

TV
Arts and Entertainment
No Devotion's Geoff Rickly and Stuart Richardson
musicReview: No Devotion, O2 Academy Islington, London
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film

film
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian 'Weird Al' Yankovic

Is the comedy album making a comeback?

comedy
Arts and Entertainment
While many films were released, few managed to match the success of James Bond blockbuster 'Skyfall'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Jamie Dornan as Christian Grey in the first-look Fifty Shades of Grey movie still

film
Arts and Entertainment
Sue Perkins and Mel Giedroyc, centre, are up for Best Female TV Comic for their presenting quips on The Great British Bake Off

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Martin Freeman as Lester Nygaard in the TV adaptation of 'Fargo'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Shakespeare in Love at the Noel Coward Theatre
theatreReview: Shakespeare in Love has moments of sheer stage poetry mixed with effervescent fun
Arts and Entertainment
Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson stars in Hercules

film
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'

film
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>

film
Arts and Entertainment

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book

books
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
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.

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

    The air strikes were tragically real

    The children were playing in the street with toy guns
    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

    Britain as others see us

    Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

    Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

    Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
    How did our legends really begin?

    How did our legends really begin?

    Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
    Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Lambrusco is back on the menu

    Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
    A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

    A new Russian revolution

    Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
    Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

    The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
    Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

    Standing my ground

    If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
    Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

    Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
    Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

    Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

    The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
    The man who dared to go on holiday

    The man who dared to go on holiday

    New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business, from Sarah Millican to Marcus Brigstocke

    Best comedians: How the professionals go about their funny business

    For all those wanting to know how stand-ups keep standing, here are some of the best moments
    The Guest List 2014: Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks

    The Guest List 2014

    Forget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
    Jokes on Hollywood: 'With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on'

    Jokes on Hollywood

    With comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on