Mike Kelley

Biography of Mike Kelley

The provocative artist Mike Kelley was adept at embracing the extreme contradictions of American culture, whether it be ugly or beautiful, open or deceitful, to reveal the hidden integrity at its core. A key exponent of Californian Post-Conceptualism, Kelley mined modernist and American popular culture to inspire his highly personal and socially engaged work.


Mike Kelley’s work was hugely diverse, capable of drawing on a wide range of media such as sculpture, installation, video, performance, painting, and drawing. His ambivalent view of the institutions of daily life and the way they suppress the adherents they intend to liberate provided a focus for much of his art practice, as well as at times his ire. Questioning the accuracy of memory and America’s fetishization of childhood, Kelley was intrigued and horrified by the prevalence of therapy. This is echoed in his fascination for the unconscious and the darker side of American culture.


Born in Michigan in 1954 in a downtrodden suburb of Detroit, Mike Kelley abandoned painting in the early 80s to begin experimenting with durational performances. By the late 80s Kelley had left performance behind and was creating sculptures from stuffed animals and well-worn Afghan blankets. Kelley took his own life in 2012, having become one of America’s most internationally acclaimed artists. During his lifetime he exhibited at some of the most prestigious galleries and museums around the world. Twice involved in the Venice Biennale in 1988 and 1995, he also exhibited at Tate Liverpool in 2004 and had a monumental exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2013.

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