A Mike Kelley Retrospective Opens At MoMA PS1

Hundreds of the late artist and punk frontman’s “perversions” of mass culture present a colorful three-story show.

In March, the Museum of Modern Art bought Deodorized Central Mass With Satellites, an installation by the late L.A.-based artist Mike Kelley, for more than $4 million. Suspended from the ceiling by a pulley system and surrounded by Pine-Sol-spritzing resin sculptures, these orgiastic clumps of rainbow stuffed animals took Kelley more than a decade to create, and originally failed to sell at all. Once smushed into a box and ignored, “Deodorized Central Mass” is the centerpiece of MoMA PS1’s new exhibit, Mike Kelley: A Retrospective, which opens October 13. Featuring more than 200 pieces from the 1970s to 2012, it’s the largest-ever exhibition of the artist’s work, and the first show to occupy PS1’s entire three-story building.


Kelley, who studied with the likes of Laurie Anderson and Douglas Huebler, once said of his much-lauded career, “My entrance into the art world was through the counter-culture, where it was common practice to lift material from mass culture and ‘pervert‘ it to reverse or alter its meaning … Mass culture is scrutinized to discover what is hidden, repressed, within it.”

A pioneer of what one Village Voice critic dubbed “clusterfuck aesthetics,” Kelley’s various “perversions” of mass culture included a video starring Superman reading Sylvia Plath’s The Bell Jar; a painting of a smiling, waving, and defecating Santa Claus; and a pair of Siamese sock monkeys.

Kelley’s 1989 performance piece, Pansy Metal/Clovered Hoof, will be restaged in PS1’s VW Dome as part of the Sunday opening. Clad in silk scarves designed by Kelley featuring skulls, cowboy corncobs, and a crowned phallus, dancers will twitch and jerk along to “Orgasmatron” by British heavy metal band Motorhead.

Sonic Youth’s 1992 album “Dirty” features a motley collection of Kelley’s bedraggled yarn creatures on its cover and liner notes. The former frontman of punk bands Destroy All Monsters and Poetics, Kelley also collaborated with Sonic Youth for the New York-based Tellus Audio Cassette series. On February 14, Sonic Youth’s Kim Gordon will join artist Jutta Koether at PS1 in an event honoring Kelley’s legacy.

About the author

Carey Dunne is a Brooklyn-based writer covering art and design. Follow her on Twitter.