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Mike Kelley Ah. . . . Youth! 1991
Mike Kelley
Ah. . . . Youth!
1991

Mike Kelley

MIKE AND IKE

by Charlie Finch

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Mike and Ike was a famous movie-theater candy in the 1950s, subject of a routine by the notorious x-rated comedian Redd Foxx.

Who knew that Mike Kelley, one of the most successful, gregarious and beloved artists of his time, had an Ike at the center of his soul? According to press reports, Kelley committed suicide last night. I never knew the guy, but his generosity of spirit somehow touched me for 20 years, going back to the 1989 Whitney Biennial when I first saw his soft toys on the floor.

Subsequently, Mike became identified with the changing landscape of L.A. art, manifested in his work devoted to Buddhist temples and other structures of the Los Angeles scene. This work had a great influence on his elder, artist Chris Burden, merging architecture, vivid color and a wry perspective on life that would seem to deny a desire to take one's own life.

It's no exaggeration to say, despite the recent popularity in Los Angeles-based exhibitions of all the Finish Fetish and Light and Space artists, that Mike Kelley remained the cynosure of everything that was art in Los Angeles. Nathaniel West, who died in a car crash at age 36, defined the life-sucking essence of L.A.'s perfectly seductive climate.

In the end, if Mike Kelley killed himself, Los Angeles was the murderer.


CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).

 



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