Mike Kelley Haunts 500 Capp Street with Toy Guts and Doppelgängers

Mike Kelley, Detail of 'Towhead n'Ganga, enclosed in darkness, lorded over by the sexualized -folded -high priestess form,' 1996. (Courtesy of KADIST San Francisco)

One of my main hopes for 2019 is that we take a page from Mike Kelley’s book and let everything get just a little bit... weirder. For those unfamiliar with the late artist’s oeuvre, the current installation at 500 Capp Street is only a slice of his wide-ranging practice. But even in the limited space of David Ireland’s architectural art piece, Pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing, as organizers Bob Linder and Diego Villalobos have titled the installation, fills the house with an eerie energy—a bit like Halloween decorations left hanging around in mid-July.

The holiday reference is a helpful one, because Kelley’s Day is Done series, represented in 31 large framed photographic prints and a nearly 3-hour video piece, examines the tropes of religious rituals, school assemblies and amateur plays based on images the artist sourced from old high school yearbooks.

The prints, all diptychs featuring the original found images in black and white and Kelley’s careful restagings of them in full color, are so big they barely fit on the available glossy wall space of 500 Capp. (Forever separated from any caption that might explain just what this grinning devil was up to, or why this woman was holding two giant bananas, the doubled images elicit genuine reactions of “What the heck?”)

Installation view of 'Pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing' at 500 Capp Street Foundation, featuring images from Mike Kelley's 'Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction' series, 2004-2005.
Installation view of 'Pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing' at 500 Capp Street Foundation, featuring images from Mike Kelley's 'Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction' series, 2004-2005. (Courtesy of the MIke Kelley Foundation for the Arts)

Kelley’s expanded world of long-ago costume parties, dances and other, less decipherable events in turn highlight Ireland’s penchant for making ordinary objects (cardboard boxes, the interior workings of a window, plain old concrete) strange.

And Ireland’s obsession with the structure and materials of his own home finds a reflection in pieces from Kelley’s Educational Complex series, in which Kelley attempted to remember and create models of all the architectural spaces of his own education, beginning with his childhood home in the suburbs of Detroit. For both artists, buildings were empty spaces where events both sinister and magical could happen—traumas, indelible memories and made-up histories.

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It’s not an initially intuitive pairing, but like a haunting, Kelley’s work calls attention to unseen aspects of Ireland’s home and art, ringing in the new year with a cacophony of mechanical toy guts. Here’s to more of this in the year to come.

'Pushing and pulling, pulling and pushing' is on view at San Francisco's 500 Capp Street through Feb. 16, 2019. Details here.

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