A Vast and Incredible Mike Kelley Retrospective at MoMA PS1

Man admiring Mike Kelley's MoMa PS1 exhibition with a large variety of stuffed animals sewn together into a big piece that covers the wall.

Set aside some time one of these weekends and head on over to MoMA PS1 for career-spanning retrospective of one of contemporary art's most influential figures, Mike Kelley. And you'll definitely need some time: not only does this massive exhibition take over the entire museum with more than 270 works, but many of Kelley's works also either require a bit of reading, a bit of thought, or, in the case of his many films and videos, a bit of watching, to fully appreciate.

Don't worry, though: it's all very lively and often quite funny, as well as definitely dark and/or crude at times. Plus, you can always refuel at the consistently amazing PS1 "cafeteria" run the M. Wells crew.

A photo stitch of Mike Kelly portraits, including several stuffed animals, a bear, a bunny, a bee and more

The Life of Artist Mike Kelley

I went to the opening of the Mike Kelley retrospective at MoMA PS1 and was kind of blown away, by the anger, by the relentless subversion, by the humor, by the sheer breadth and depth of the work. What I didn't know going in was that Kelley, who suffered long from depression, killed himself last year at the age 57, while in the middle of the planning for this exhibition. The exhibiton may or may not have added another level or three to the vast body of work displayed here. And Kelley embraced all media, so in addition to videos of his performance pieces (and the ephemera and descriptions thereof), there are drawings, paintings, installations (one of which, "Rose Hobart II", you can crawl into, trusting that the pitch dark passageway leads somewhere at last reasonably safe), sculptural work of all description, but often involving stuffed animals.

Observers of Mike Kelley's Retrospective at MoMa PS1 walking down the part of the exhibition entitled "Hall of Shame", which is a colorful hallway of portraits of famous people

A Once In a Lifetime Exhibition

It's that "cutesy-ness, subverted" aspect of Kelley's work that makes him such a crowd-pleaser, I think; there was a line to get into the gallery on the first floor that contained his huge, cuddly-but-then-again-maybe-not "Deodorized Central Mass With Satellites" which is basically a series of planets and moons made from plush toys. But Kelley was also what you might call "an artist's artist", revered by his peers (one artist I met during the two hours I spent wandering the galleries had actually handmade a jacket covered with puffballs specifically to wear at the opening!) and hugely influential within the contemporary art community. The MoMA PS1 exhibition offers all of us a possibly once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to witness and explore the astonishing range of ideas and creative executions of this enormously talented, perhaps equally enormously troubled, man. Not to be missed.    

Little boy with his face aglow from Mike Kelley's Future City piece at the MoMa PS1 exhbition

More Information: Mike Kelley Retrospective

The Mike Kelley retrospective will be at MoMA PS1 through February 2, 2014. MoMA PS1 is located at Jackson and 46th Avenues in Long Island City, just a couple of blocks from the G, E, M, and 7 trains, and is open Thursday through Monday from 12:00 noon until 6:00 p.m., which is also the hours for the M. Wells Dinette located therein.

Mike Kelley's "Deodorized Central Mass With Satellites", which is the part of the exhibition which took stuffed animals and created big balls that hang from the ceiling resembling planets

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