New York

Mike Kelley

Metro Pictures

Satan! Satan! SATAN!! Satan wants YOU! And he’s everywhere. That’s right, you heard me, everywhere.

Mike Kelley tells you all about it in his new exhibition of nasty Satanic-type stuff. Stuff like: high-school yearbook photos of kids playing mischievous—but obviously Satanic—pranks like mooning people and dressing up as the opposite gender, all stuck under dummy headlines from lefty liberal newspapers such as the New York Times and the Detroit Free Press. Stuff like: models of institutional spaces where Kelley has suffered, complete with basements and sub-basements—Satanists and other ritual abusers love basements, they always do their foul deeds there—and models of institutional insignia, slightly tweaked, so that they look just as evil as you always knew the Rotarians and the Masons really were. Kelley wants you to know that Satan is in your home (sometimes he looks like mommy or daddy, and sometimes he looks like your parents’ friends—but more on that later), in your school (which is why he has those yearbook photos and those paintings that look like the drawings the creepy kid in the Sepultura T-shirt who sat next to you in homeroom was always doing) and in restaurants, too, (which is why he has reviews of Chinese restaurants, alternating with descriptions of terrible, horrible Satanic sexual abuse, printed on the newspapers). Satan is even hiding out in the lame cutesypoo kiddie kulture that gets shoveled by the media into the heads of beloved tykes all the goddamn time. You can tell that this is true because of the way even adorable little woodland animals look creepy and evil in Kelley’s paintings on the wall, what with the pentagrams and demon wings and goat heads all over the place.

Kelley needs to remind you of all this in part because Satan is tricky and hides everywhere, so that you don’t notice him until it’s too late, and in part because Satan and his minions are frequently so horrible you can’t bring yourself to remember what they did after they did it. Later, of course, you will remember what happened, but only in the form of social maladjustment and vague, twisted images floating across your mind. Both are symptoms of the repressed memory syndrome, which you getfrom being the victim of evil practices like childhood Satanic ritual abuse or alien abduction. Or school.

Especially school, actually—at least for the purposes of this exhibition.

Kelley has long been a fan of perversity, social maladjustment, and adolescent-sicko imagery, particularly in its institutionalized and covert forms, and school is the best place to look for that sort of thing. So in this show, he included a sculpture composed of scale models of all the schools he ever attended, from kindergarten to Cal Arts, complete with covered sections to indicate areas he couldn’t remember (or repressed, whichever). The 15 “Timeless/Authorless,” newspaper series (all works 1995) are school related, too: along with the photos lifted from high school yearbooks, all the mastheads are from places where Kelley has attended school, or had shows (having a show being another way of seeking institutional approval, and consequently, having a horrible time). The texts are practically indistinguishable from one another, the hysteria of small-town restaurant “reviews” mirroring the hysteria of “remembered” childhood trauma. In both, so much gets remembered, that it’s hard to tell if anything has been remembered at all. Then there are the paintings: relentlessly lame, their style mirrors the dominant styles (if not the content) taught when Kelley was at school, complete with little Hoffmanesque color rectangles. The color fields cover up the dirty parts, just like they do in real school.

But anyone familiar with either repressed memory theory, or the McMartin day-care scandal, knows what Kelley’s doing—the dirty parts always get out. So in a nod to both of the above, Kelley puts the best part of his show in the basement: We Communicate Only Through Our Shared Dismissal of the Pre-Linguistic, four walls of children’s drawings (culled from Kelley’s tenure as a kindergarten teacher), complete with interpretations provided by “therapists” (Kelley, actually). And every single kid is the victim either of abuse, or of improperly identified sexual objects, or of a radical failure to get out of the anal sadistic stage because of ritual abuse, or of alien abduction, or . . . you get the picture. With this show “Toward A Utopian Arts Complex,” Kelley makes the move from work about things too pathetic to be forgotten (More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid, 1987) to work about things too horrible to be remembered.

Hey, Mike’s just trying to help, he just wants you to remember: Satan is always watching. And he’s probably already got you (he already got to Mike), so be careful. You never know what you’ll remember next.

Mark Van de Walle