Post-War & Contemporary Art Auction
June 7 at 7pm at Tajan in Paris
PARIS – Tajan’s Contemporary Art department is pleased to present Entry Way (Genealogical Chart), a monumental mural created by American artist Mike Kelly in 1995. It will be auctioned as lot 15 at the “Post-War & Contemporary Art” sale on June 7.
MIKE KELLEY (1954-2012)
Entry Way (Genealogical Chart), 1995
Acrylic on board with steel frame
101 5/8 x 115 in.
800 000 / 1 200 000 €
New York, Metro Pictures, Mike Kelley, Toward a utopian arts complex, 21 October-25 November 1995
Barcelona, Museu d’Art Contemporani de Barcelona, 24 January-31 March 1997; Malmö, Rooseum Center for Contemporary Art, 25 April-15 June 1997; Eindhoven, Stedelijk Van Abbemuseum, 5 July-31 August 1997, Mike Kelley 1985-1996, reproduced p. 111 and described under n°31 p. 137 of the exhibition catalogue
Brussels, Wiels Contemporary Art Centre, 12 April-27 July 2008; Bolzano, Museion, 16 January- 19 April 2009, Mike Kelley: Educational Complex Onwards 1995-2008, reproduced p. 89 under n°5.5 of the exhibition catalogue
New York, MoMA PS1, 13 October 2013-2 February 2014; Los Angeles, The Museum of Contemporary Art, 23 March-28 July 2014, Mike Kelley, reproduced p. 198 of the exhibition catalogue
“WELCOME TO ___SS” reads the sign at the top of Entry Way (Genealogical Chart), created by Mike Kelley in 1995. Imitating the appearance of the welcome signs found on the outskirts of most American towns and cities, which list social clubs and fraternal orders, this monumental mural illustrates the artist’s skilful use of appropriation and ironic subversion to explore the vicissitudes of memory. Blending, with a perfectly mastered art of discrepancy, a trashy universe and a resolutely pop aesthetic to offer a work that is critical of American society and its deviancies, Mike Kelley is widely regarded as one of the most inﬂuent members of American conceptual art. He died prematurely in 2012, having emerged on the Los Angeles art scene in the late 1970s and left behind a prolific body of work that juggles scholarly culture, popular culture and countercultures. Tinged with a certain ‘uncanny strangeness’, Kelley’s work draws on an extremely wide range of techniques, from his early performances at the renowned Los Angeles art school CalArts, to his rich graphic work, to his spectacular sculpture-installations, of which Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) is a remarkable example.
Conceived shortly after Kelley’s participation in Documenta in Kassel in 1992 and his first retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York in 1993, Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) was one of the key works in the exhibition Toward a Utopian Arts Complex at Metro Pictures in New York in 1995. It also featured Educational Complex (1995), a gigantic architectural model representing all the educational establishments Kelley attended, starting with his family home, a work now part of the permanent collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York. Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) was acquired the year it was created, and has featured in some of the artist’s most important exhibitions, including the major travelling retrospective presented at MoMA PS1 in New York and MoCA in Los Angeles between 2013 and 2014. A major work by the artist, it is undoubtedly one of the most important in the series still in a private collection. Like the other works exhibited at Metro Pictures, it was among the first to address the notion of a fabricated biography in relation to questions of memory and trauma, a theme that was to characterise Kelley’s practice over the course of his last decade.
The composition of Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) is based on a gigantic assembly of circular plaques painted in gendered pastel colours, most of them embellished with logos from American culture, both real and imagined. Although the information is not clearly revealed in the work, it is inspired by a genealogical chart of Kelley’s immediate family. The plaques are topped with a welcome sign, but it is not clear what we are being invited to. The name of the town designated by the sign, partially repainted in the manner of sanctioned graffiti, is obscured. The two letters that remain immediately bring to mind the Schutz-Staﬀel. Leaving the viewer to his reﬂection, while imagining that he or she would notice the diﬀerence and harmlessness of the font, Kelley is in fact, according to his explanations, inviting us into the imaginary town of Tross and leaving an equally obscure undertone. The artist had alluded to this city in a poem entitled Goin’ Home, Goin’ Home, riddled with a pun: ‘At the crossroads of life. At Tross City limits”. Read phonetically as “Atrocity limits”, the phrase refers to the controversial experimental novel Atrocity Exhibiton by J. G Ballard, whose writing Kelley admired. Published in 1969, it was a description of the media and cultural landscape that invades and shatters the individual mind. Similarly, Kelley uses Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) to make his own pseudo-psychological assessment of the traumas of his past.
The sketches linked to our work show how Kelley, through a complex creative process, recomposes his genealogical chart into a pseudopsychological cartography of his family. Initially identified by name or by their relationship to the artist, each relative is then referred to by their ‘pure qualities’, often derogatory, such as ‘destructive’ or ‘castrating’. But in the end, in the formal composition, Kelley denies the viewer to intimate access to his biographical history by covering the plates with emblems of fraternal organisations, some of them obscure, or leaving them blank, in the case of those representing his parents in particular. These blank areas could be seen as the result of a trauma that the artist sought to repress.
This implicit notion of psychic trauma, common to the autobiographical works in this series, appears to be a response to the psychopathological misinterpretation of the sculptures in his earlier Half a Man series. Instead of resisting the critical reception that focused on nostalgia and trauma, Kelley explains: “I decided… to accept the social role that was being projected onto me, to become what people wanted me to be: a victim. Since I am an artist, it seemed natural to look to my own aesthetic training as the root of my secret indoctrination into perversity, and perhaps the site of my own abuse… My upbringing must have been a form of mental abuse, of brainwashing.”
By constructing his ‘victim’ biography within the very structure of the work, Kelley plunges us into a contested psychological theory, that of repressed memory syndrome. Entry Way (Genealogical Chart) confronts the artist’s memory, based on his family tree associated with emblems of American culture, with psychological and historical trauma, between fiction and biographical elements. While tracing the historical and social origins that have structured him and determined his art, Kelley manipulates them in order to ironically explore popular fantasies associated with false memory syndrome and the omnipresence of repression in contemporary culture. A use of autobiography and memory to deconstruct the shaping of individuals, a dimension that would come to the fore in the last decade of Kelley’s short life.