Thursday, February 2, 2012

There Is Mourning In Kandor: Artist Mike Kelley Passes Away

LOS ANGELES (AP).- 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.

A family friend who was concerned about Kelley went to his home and called 911, Bartl said.

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.

Kelley's work was included in the upcoming 2012 Whitney Biennial out of New York.

Kelley used many mediums and source materials. "He was always breaking boundaries and challenging convention," Barron said.

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.

After encounters with him, Barron said, "I always came away learning something new, thinking about things differently and in awe of his curiosity."

Although she corresponded with him in the last couple of weeks, the last time she saw him was a month ago.

"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.


  1. The bottle city is exquisite. Such a tragedy.

  2. Thanks for noticing. As someone who has been stuck and transfixed in Kandor for a lifetime (or some such measure), I found Mike Kelley's passing (especially by suicide) very, very sad. There's nothing remotely camp or put on about Kelley's Kandors and I appreciate that very much. Even though my own Kandor(s) are different, I really respect his. Oh my. Just watched Sixteen Candles again, which has a lot of very funny scenes. Wow. Curtis

  3. Stuck in Kandor. Quite a metaphor. That strikes an old chord. I liked Sixteen Candles very much when I saw it many, many moons ago.

    Must have taken quite some time to execute the text colors on this. Well done!