Mike Kelley's Massive Kandors Series Comes to Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles
Mike Kelley, perpetual art-world gadfly, enfant terrible, provocateur—whatever you want to call him—is known for his theoretically dense, irreverent, and sometimes shocking work, often using taboo to excavate social mores and his own life. His bold artistic innovation enshrined him as a leading figure in late 20th century art, and he continued to wield an outsize influence on the art world until his untimely death by suicide in 2012. Kandors, an endlessly proliferating series that consumed Kelley up until the end of his life, is in one way similar to much of Kelley's oeuvre, taking significant imagery from the collective consciousness and using it to explore societal anxieties and to riff on contemporary life. In this case, that means material from early Superman comics, and in particular the myth of Superman's home city, Kandor, which was shrunk by the villain Braniac to toy-size along with its live inhabitants, and which Superman has to keep protected in a bottle in his lair. It is all transmuted by the insatiable, endlessly-synthesizing mind of Mike Kelley into something far more strange and suggestive then the sum of its theoretical parts.
But Kandors is also different from much of Kelley's past work for one reason—it is genuinely, generously beautiful. Miniature acrylic cities lit from below dazzle in jewel-like colors. Hypnotizing vortexes-in-a-bottle are projected on the walls. Wonderfully kitschy constructions of caves and bottles and mid-century pop iconography offer both nostalgic delight and a strange sense of melancholy in the fragility and intangibility of an ideal, much like Superman must have felt in his longing for a world and a home that no longer existed, and not dissimilar from the way many of us miss Kelley's wild imagination as well.
‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 – 2011’, now showing at Hauser & Wirth, is the largest and most complete display of Kelley's Kandors work ever presented in North America. Seeing it all you can't help but wonder how Hauser & Wirth, a more than welcome addition to the DTLA arts scene, has pulled it off. But pull it off they did—filling some five rooms in their spacious facilities with miniature cities, caves, tubes, hoses, bottles, projection, and even architectural students designing and building models to contribute—and anyone who appreciates Kelley, art on a grand scale, or simple beauty should not miss it.
‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 – 2011’ will be showing at Hauser & Wirth in the Arts District until January 21st, 2018.
Written by Sid Feddema