Mike Kelley

Jablonka Galerie

Directly inside the entrance to the gallery in Mike Kelley’s recent show, one stumbled on The Keep (all works 1998), a trashy, scrap-wood hut issuing hollow “UFO sounds.” Its interior, visible through various slits, chicken wire, and a small spyglass, featured rows of glass containers drenched in colored light.

Kelley is frequently preoccupied with how authority, particularly schools, affects individuals; his earlier piece Educational Complex, 1995, reflected the constrictive influence of his own art teacher. Like that work, the large installation Sublevel, which lent its name to this show, is based on the architecture of Kelley’s childhood school. Hallways and rooms have been recreated at reduced scale and mounted on wooden platforms; some of their walls are lined with a kind of crystalline pink plastic. Visitors are forced to creep along, in complete darkness, through a low, narrow passage into a larger room filled with revolving red and blue lights. A case filled with religious figurines, sex toys, and fetish objects is visible there in the dimness.

The exhibition also included Missing Time Color Exercise, a notable departure from Kelley’s other work to date. In it he frames (in sequence of publication) several editions of a pornographic comic book, leaving gaps that he fills with mono-chrome plates color-coordinated with the book’s explicitly illustrated title pages. Missing Time Color Exercise combines strategies of Conceptual art with the trivial obscenity of the comics, taking up themes of sexual humiliation and Freudian wish-fulfillment through the artist’s signature blend of high and low culture.

Kelley transforms provocative content and consciously deployed bad taste by using harmonious colors and forms; his formally attractive, engaging works are all the more powerful when one takes into account the intrusiveness of their themes.

Yilmaz Dziewior

Translated from the German by Diana Reese.