“Helter Skelter”

Mike Kelley, Proposal for the Decoration of an Island of Conference Rooms (with Copy Room) for an Advertising Agency Designed by Frank Gehry, 1991. Installation view, Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, 1992.

Pop artists took a professional interest in products and packaging in the ’60s: Commercial design offered not only new source material—Campbell’s Soup labels or Brillo boxes—but the model for a whole new way of doing business. Across the decade, modern museums learned their design lessons as well as the artists did, perhaps even better. “Art has entered into the media system,” wrote Harold Rosenberg in 1968, arguing that the “archetypal creation of the media is the package, whether it contains cornflakes, a 240-horsepower motor or a retrospective exhibition of the paintings of Jackson Pollock.”(1) Rosenberg’s system is now business as usual, and the packages put together by curators and museum public-relations offices seldom raise eyebrows. It’s to curator Paul Schimmel’s credit, then, that his 1992 “Helter Skelter: L.A. Art in the 1990s” elicited the reaction that it did. A group

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