Thursday, June 3, 2010
Mike Kelley’s current exhibition at the Skarstedt Gallery features seven works from his Arena sculpture series. Using found objects, both handmade and machine fabricated, and stuffed animals, Kelley creates “arenas,” scenes crafted to evoke curiosity from his observers. Kelley works on the floor, as a playing child might, with afghans and blankets of varying styles and motifs. Kelley explores the commodification of toys and their relevant emotions, removing them from a typical, nostalgic setting to create arenas that highlight both consumeristic natures and artistic projections.
Teddy bears, monkeys, bunnies, and other toys, specifically stuffed animals, have been fundamental to Kelley’s work for decades. He looks at these playthings as gifts, man-made objects that are in themselves intents, detached from childish ownership. In a 1992 interview with John Miller, Kelley said, “Basically, gift giving is like indentured slavery or something. There’s no price, so you don’t know how much you owe. The commodity is emotion. What’s being bought and sold is emotion.”
By displaying these playthings antiseptically and discretely from actual usage, Kelley transforms these gifts from toys to museum objects. However, by creating floor-bound, childlike arenas, he challenges the quintessential immaculateness of a gallery. At once, he calls into question both the emotionality of toys and gifts and the concept of stainless museum pieces.
This exhibition is necessarily reflexive. By working with man-made crafts, both Kelley and the observers of his sculptures are forced to anthropomorphize the positions and maneuvers of the stuffed animals. The jettisoned playthings serve as ready templates for the viewers’ projections regarding childhood remembrance, consumerism, and the concept of the exhibition of art. Kelley lives and works in Los Angeles, California, and has been exhibited at the Louvre, the Tate, the Whitney, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.