Critics’ Picks

Mike Kelley, City 17, 2011, tinted urethane resin on illuminated base, 84 x 16 1/2".

Mike Kelley, City 17, 2011, tinted urethane resin on illuminated base, 84 x 16 1/2".

New York

Mike Kelley

Hauser & Wirth | West 18th Street
511 West 18th Street
September 10–October 24, 2015

Let’s begin with the allegory of Superman and the way the cultural icon pushes the conventions of heroics (alien on Earth and alienated from Kandor), all expressed within the concision of a comic strip. Beyond the habit of metaphor, the story of Superman, his displacement between here and elsewhere, haunts the exhibition—where the artist is definitively not present.

In his absence, models of the vigilante’s home planet—an assembly of many sculptures—litter the floor, while a series of lenticular light boxes limn their presence. The skylines of these cities mutate from elongated twisting spires to lumbering geometric blocks. Constructed of glistening stalagmites (sunstone crystals, perhaps?) and cast in colorful resins, these metropolises are portable and preserved by containment fields. Glass bell jars pump them with a cloying gas that spills off and over the citys’ surfaces. Each reduced, bottled-up world an eerie and cautionary reminder, for Kandor was infamous for indecision, inaction, and conservatism. Superman saved his home anyway, clutching to a memento and an unstable image, one altered by time and fans and memory.

But isn’t it too easy to collapse the struggle of our antihero into the romantic artist’s myth? Yet, this exhibition sells us the following equations: collector to Brainiac, institution to Kandor, white cube to comic strip. The recursive chain of similes builds spatially and raises the question: What was this artist’s kryptonite? Answer: The inability to reconcile a utopian vision in the stifling atmosphere of expanding gas.