eternally recurring youth

A narcissism? A fear of emotion? What does it mean to be human? The death of Mike Kelley this past month forces one to put the concept of the avant-garde on trial; a spotlight on this never grow old, eternally young and dynamic ethos that characterizes the avant-garde almost as a defining principle and of which Kelley was one of the high priests. Part is the pull that we are at the end of an artistic cycle of which there is no way to advance as opposed that these pillars of post-modernism are showing the way to a brighter tomorrow.Just climb Yoko Ono’s ladder to the heavens. Trailblazers. And it is irrelevant if a Hirst or McCarthy cannot draw and have limited technical skills in the same way as some forms of commercial musical, electronica, require creativity but no  or limited musical talent.

The ideas of avant-garde art as marking a young golden age, predate Keats and Byron and the romantic movement and it could be argued that the idea of being youthful and modern, this self-imposed apartheid on the rest, is outdated and obsolete. But perhaps its more about desperation and what it means to be an artist in the 21st century. To be caught between the attraction of nihilism, an assault on the art of the past no longer meaningful in times of mass destructive capability and an equal belief they had received a passing of the flame and occupied an ancient social role of the artist, the creative genius, and were carrying on a grand tradition in new contexts. Hard to know whether a Kelley held some of that unconscious anxiety of being creatively inferior to the Old masters or whether that anxiety was channeled into his creativity. What does seem apparent, is that Kelley, lie others, did not really offer us symbols of anxiety but offered symbols of the sensation of anxiety and trauma. Here we get into the issue of obsolescence since sensations dissipate faster if absent of symbolic form, since we are never asked to reflect, but only to experience. Is mindless experience a form of revenge on life?

Read More: --- Growing up in Detroit, the self-described “blue-collar anarchist” played noise music with Destroy All Monsters before heading to CalArts for grad school under John Baldessari and Laurie Anderson, alongside Paul McCarthy and Tony Oursler, his future collaborators. From sewn stuffed-animal sculptures that spoke on the state of man, to grand avant-garde musicals, to colorful crystal Kandors-themed installations at the Gagosian dubbed as pioneering examples of “clusterfuck aesthetics” by critic Jerry Saltz, Mike Kelley had furiously resisted all conventions.---

from the obituary: Artist Mike Kelley, described by colleagues as an “irresistible force” in contemporary art, has died, police said Wednesday. He was 57.Kelley was found at his home Tuesday and it appeared he had committed suicide, South Pasadena Police Sgt. Robert Bartl said, without providing further information on the artist’s death. An autopsy was pending. “Kelley’s work in the 1980s was part of how one defined the Los Angeles arts scene. He had a remarkable ability to fuse distinction between fine and popular art in ways that managed to perturb our sense of decorum,” said Stephanie Barron, senior curator of modern art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

…The friend told investigators that Kelley had been depressed because he had recently broken up with his girlfriend, but no note was found, Bartl said. “Mike was an irresistible force in contemporary art. … We cannot believe he is gone. But we know his legacy will continue to touch and challenge anyone who crosses its path. We will miss him. We will keep him with us,” Kelley’s studio said in a statement that the Los Angeles Times published on its website. Read More:

I think it could be said Kelley reflected fears on growing old and becoming traditional. Of becoming doctrinal. As representing part of our own anxious responses to the trauma of time; this new kind of anxiety of being discarded by systems that opened up old festering sores of adolescent fatalism, the guy or girl you went to school with who died at 19 years old in an accident, an annihilative anxiety ; where the creative destruction intrinsic to the avant-garde has an uncomfortable relation to the same creative destruction that defines the capitalist economy; how money value and art values merge seamlessly.

Obituary:Some of his greatest works were large scale installations, she said. “Some of his room-sized, full-gallery sized extravaganzas are truly impressive.”Kelley was a student of John Baldessari. His 1994 retrospective organized by the Whitney, which came to LACMA in 1995, established him as a major figure in the art world, Barron said.“His work was widely collected and exhibited internationally. He had a voracious appetite for all kinds of art. He was enormously curious and worked incredibly at his craft. He was never afraid to thing really big. Artists like that don’t come around very often,” she said.

Born in Detroit, Kelley founded the band Destroy All Monsters with three others in 1974.He left the band in 1978 to attend California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, near Los Angeles.“He was extremely intense, very serious, phenomenally well read. He would go very deep into his subjects, a real artist scholar but with a real passion for whatever he was investigating,” Barron said….Although she corresponded with him in the last couple of weeks, the last time she saw him was a month ago….

Read More: ---Mike Kelley is best-known for his punk rock-informed work which included large-scale installations and sculptures made from sewing ratty stuffed animals together. ---

…“It’s incredibly sad. It’s hard to imagine somebody with the life force and intensity that Mike brought to bear is no longer with us. His impact will be seen with distance as all the more powerful and we’ll have to begin to process this,” Barron said.Read More:

Part of the attraction, and somewhat strangely, is the sense in Kelley’s work of no time and no death. Only innocence, the creation of spaces where one is always innocent. Either a face saving tactic where in creating an artificial paradise that never existed, an artist like Kelley is mining the same vein as Norman Rockwell. A truth perhaps lurking , waiting to be emancipated inside the sentimentality of kitsch and that unconscious and aesthetic values, symbols are actually to be had but maybe like Rockwell, just too entangled and covered within the subject matter to attain a bit more critical distance. Trapped in their own world of their own making and unable to find a way home. Maybe suici

or Kelley was a moving away from the theory, unrealistic, that death is a poetic vision.


Read More: Kelley, MCcarthy. Kuspit:Thus, as T. W. Adorno writes, "avant-garde," a "label. . . for many decades monopolized by whoever happened to consider himself most progressive, begins to conjure up comical associations of aging youth" -- an ingeniously decadent condition. Even as the avant-garde aged, it kept giving itself face-lifts -- or, as we say in America, "esthetic surgery" -- to keep itself looking permanently young, that is, immature if not fresh. Avant-garde art has a Dorian Gray complex: It wants to stay young forever. It wants to continue on its rebellious way without showing any signs of wear and tear. It refuses to recognize that it is impossible to be young and modern forever.

Kuspit repaints Marcel Duchamp – widely considered the most influential artist of the 20th century and a central or seminal figure of Cubism, Dada, Surrealism, Pop Art and Conceptualism – as a sexually retarded, nihilistic, hyperintellectual despoiler of art’s potential to positively transform our relationship to the world. Abstract Expressionism and color-field-painting Grand Poo-Bah Barnett Newman is written off for his equal but opposite disengagement from the sensual world….Read More:

For Baudelaire and Gauguin the photograph was symptomatic of industrial society and instrumental reason, and thus of the realism of maturity, which involves the realization that the world does not revolve around one’s ego. And they wanted the world to revolve around them. But this narcissistic repudiation of it had to do with their inkling, implicit in their awareness that the photograph could be reproduced ad infinitum, that modern society was fundamentally a mass society. For them mechanical reproduction was the beginning of the end of the imaginative self. Mechanical reproduction meant stifling reduction to sameness, the impersonal homogeneity of universal standardization, an instrument of procrustean social control. To be a modern adult meant servitude and submission to a mechanical system — to indifferent administrative authority. They did not want to submit, for submission meant living death, and sometimes actual death, as the first world war, which spawned the Dadaist avant-garde, demonstrated.Read More:

… The anxiety that the game will end — implying unconscious recognition that it has in fact ended in redundancy, defensively turned in on itself because it no longer has existential purpose, because it has been welcomed by the society it rebelled against, because its abnormality has become normal, because its anti-sociality has been socialized, assimilated to the point of overfamiliarity, because while it continues to bark it has no bite, because its creativity has been exhausted, forcing it to rest on its laurels, primp itself for posterity because it has lost inner necessity — is the emotional sign of avant-garde decadence, that is, the banalization of the avant-garde….

Read More: Searle observed: "Kelley is one of art's conflaters, of high art and low comedy, popular and unpopular culture, theory and idiocy, bad taste and good ideas." One of his good ideas was oddly close to Marcel Duchamp's last "secret" work, Etant Donnés, a tableau of a nude in a landscape within a cave; Kelley's adaptation was to recreate Superman's city of Kandor, on the planet Krypton, with glowing glass skyscrapers – remote, icy, impersonal and indecipherable.---

In contrast, the anxiety that initiates the avant-garde game is charged with creative potential as well as destructive perversity.( ibid.)


In “Into the Anal Universe: the Para-Art of Mike Kelley and Paul McCarthy” Kuspit employed psychoanalyst Janine Chasseguet-Smirgel’s theories of perversion and creativity in his reading of McCarthy and frequent collaborator Mike Kelley: “Both artists are anal-sadistic. Further, they think it liberating and critical—socially critical, no less—to be anally defiant, when in emotional fact it is regressive and, at best, pseudocritical.”

In the anal universe as described by Chasseguet-Smirgel the pervert reduces the adult world of differences to excrement. Kuspit did not read McCarthy and Kelley’s work as a humorous parody of mass culture, but rather, asked what it meant for artists to incorporate and identify so consistently with excrement: “Shit is undifferentiated matter—pure homogeneity—the useless entropic end-product of the metabolic process. In other words, it is materialized death.” I too employ Chasseguet-Smirgel’s theories to describe the way McCarthy erodes differences between generations and gender in his work, and how in doing so he effectively reduces consumer culture, art, and members of his family to excrement. Kuspit argued that McCarthy’s work is “para-art,” something that lies alongside and parasitizes true art (such as the shamanistic work of Joseph Beuys which was a vehicle for healing social ills rather than fetishizing them). Tom Holbert, writing on the McCarthy retrospective at the New Museum in 1999, used a Lacanian model, but arrived at a conclusion similar to Kuspit’s. He was troubled by the fact that he saw McCarthy as an artist who made no significant contribution to the problems of the culture he critiqued, but as an artist who fetishized the traumas thematized in his “deliberately anti-therapeutic work.” Read More:


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