Mike Kelley's Massive Kandors Series Comes to Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles

by Sid Feddema

Mike Kelley. Kandor-Con 2000 1999/2007. Mixed media installation with video, sound. Dimensions variable. Installation view, ‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 –2011’, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017 Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Deichtorhallen Hamburg / Falckenberg. Collection Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth.  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Mike Kelley. Kandor-Con 2000 1999/2007. Mixed media installation with video, sound. Dimensions variable. Installation view, ‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 –2011’, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017 Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Deichtorhallen Hamburg / Falckenberg. Collection Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth.  Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


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.

Installation view, ‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 –2011,’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. 

Installation view, ‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 –2011,’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen. 


But Kandors is also different from much of Kelley's past work for one reason—it is genuinely, generously beautifulMiniature 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. Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude). 2011. Mixed media with video projection, sound. 289.6 x 1524 x 2286 cm / 114 x 600 x 900 in. Installation view, ‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 –2011,’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Mike Kelley. Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude). 2011. Mixed media with video projection, sound. 289.6 x 1524 x 2286 cm / 114 x 600 x 900 in. Installation view, ‘Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999 –2011,’ Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, 2017. Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen


‘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