PRINT December 2006

Mike Kelley

1 “The Perfect Medium: Photography and the Occult” (Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York) This exhibition—co-organized by the Met and the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, where the show was first on view—was a great introduction to those unfamiliar with spiritualist photography, a branch of photographic history that has been neglected until recently. I’m a sucker for ectoplasm, and this show proved that “fake photography” is nothing new. (The show closed on New Year’s Eve 2005, and even got mentioned by one critic here last December, but I’m including it anyway.)

2 “Hans Bellmer: Anatomie du désir” (Centre Pompidou, Paris) Most recent Bellmer shows have focused on his photography, but this spectacular exhibition (organized by Agnès de la Beaumelle and Alain Sayag) featured a fantastic selection of his drawings as well. For me, one of the treats was the inclusion of his collection of belle époque hand-tinted postcards of female models and entertainers, which obviously served as examples for the coloration of his own photographs.

3 “Francis Picabia: Drawings” (Michael Werner Gallery, New York) A museum-quality selection of Picabia’s ridiculous and whimsical drawings. He is one of the few artists who can pull off “doodle art.” Many try, and many fail.

4 Matt Mullican, “Five Suitcases of Love, Truth, Work and Beauty” (Christine Burgin Gallery, New York) Mullican, through a kind of channeled alter ego, sought to spread the word: “Love is number one, Truth is for everyone, Work is hard and important, Beauty is everywhere.” This was accomplished through myriad drawings in which various found texts were hand-copied in a strange, goopy calligraphy. Mullican, as usual, produced something both impenetrable and mesmerizing.

5 Monica Bonvicini, “Not for You” (The Shops on Lake Avenue, Pasadena, CA/West of Rome, Inc.) In this, West of Rome’s second site-specific project in the Los Angeles area, Bonvicini took over an out-ofbusiness retail store in a functioning shopping mall—the perfect place for her mean-spirited, genderconscious attacks on modernist architecture. Her exhibition was a perfect marriage of artwork and site.

6 Roscoe Mitchell and Joseph Jarman (Ford Amphitheatre, Los Angeles) An outstanding concert by the Art Ensemble of Chicago cofounders, produced by the Society for the Activation of Social Space through Art and Sound (SASSAS). Mitchell’s saxophone solos, in particular, blew me away. The man’s a genius. Hey, please send SASSAS some money—this organization is struggling to keep serious experimental music alive in Los Angeles and needs your support (, P.O. Box 411453, Los Angeles, CA 90041).

7 Cameron Jamie (Walker Art Center, Minneapolis) Jamie’s film Kranky Klaus, 2002–2003, documenting the brutal Krampus year-end rituals in rural Austria, was one of the highlights of the last Whitney Biennial. This year Americans also had a chance to see a large survey—organized by Philippe Vergne—of installations, photographs, and films by the recently transplanted artist (he now lives in Paris). Lately, Jamie has been touring his short films with live musical accompaniment provided by sludge-metal drone-masters the Melvins and Japanese guitar improviser Keiji Haino. Don’t miss them.

8 Pere Ubu (Royce Hall, University of California, Los Angeles) While I’m on the subject of live sound tracks, Pere Ubu—the seminal art band, originally hailing from Cleveland—provided a live underscore for Roger Corman’s dreary science-fiction B-movie X: The Man with the X-Ray Eyes (1963) in a Halloween-linked concert at Royce. The band’s stew of dark psychedelia provided an interesting, and sometimes humorous, counterpoint to the film, with Les Baxter’s original music score peeping through on occasion. Afterward the group performed a set of new material, sung by leader David Thomas, one of rock’s true originals. His odd stage persona is a mix of lumbering thug and German Expressionist dancer. Ubu’s new music, in contrast to its earlier output, is brutally intense, verging on heavy metal.

9 Tony Oursler, “Spaced” (Margo Leavin Gallery, Los Angeles) Oursler’s sculptures, consisting of video projected onto biomorphic forms, are increasingly baroque. The works in this exhibition incorporated iconography related to space exploration. Projections of scrambled human features mixed with stars, fire, liquid, and coronas of light spilled and flickered onto the walls behind the sculptures like cosmic halos. The pieces included sounds of deep space recorded by NASA, in addition to Oursler’s own sound poetry. I had a hard time maintaining.

10 “Undercover Surrealism: Picasso, Miró, Masson and the Vision of Georges Bataille” (Hayward Gallery, London) This exhibition, organized by Dawn Ades, Fiona Bradley, and Simon Baker, focused on the interests of French philosopher Bataille, whose version of Surrealism was far more encompassing and far less repressed than that of his rival André Breton. The title of the show spotlighted the names of modernist darlings, but the works of the artists not mentioned (including Jacques-André Boiffard, Dalí, and Bellmer) came across as more relevant today. Bataille did not distinguish between fine art and other forms of cultural production, such as material drawn from mass culture and “primitive” art. Aesthetic hierarchy was less important than the cultural meaning that could be gleaned from such material.

Mike Kelley is a Los Angeles–based artist. His work has been the subject of numerous exhibitions, including “Profondeurs Vertes,” 2006, a special project for the Louvre, Paris, and “Day is Done,” 2005, a sculpture-and-video installation at Gagosian Gallery, New York.