Jonathan Griffin

Criticism and essays on art and culture

Tag: mike kelley

Father Figure

Anxieties about modern American manhood played out in the bedrooms of little girls

2.tumbleroom2000

Martin Kersels, Tumble Room, 2001, installation, courtesy the artist and Mitchell-Innes and Nash

“A crock of shit” is how Mike Kelley once described what he called the “modernist cult of the child.”[1] He was talking about the idealization of children – of childhood, rather – over the past two centuries, since Romanticism exalted it as a pure state, uncorrupted by the mores and hang-ups of culture and society. In visual art, this was manifested in the self-consciously childlike styles of Picasso, Miró and Klee, and the later affectation of children’s art by Dubuffet, Jorn, and countless others who, for associated reasons, also fetishized the ‘primitive’ and the ‘insane’. “Where do the children play?” asked Cat Stevens in 1970, testifying to the persistence of that myth of purity even through late ‘60s counterculture, the era of the Flower Children.[2]  Read the rest of this entry »

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What Nerve!

Rhode Island School of Design Museum, Providence

What_Nerve-Nutt-Her_Face_Fits

Jim Nutt, Her Face Fits, 1968

The rambunctious exhibition “What Nerve! Alternative Figures in American Art, 1960 to the Present” began life as an idea for a show about the Hairy Who. Seeking to broaden the scope of the project, curator Dan Nadel traced the lines of influence around the 1960s group of Chicago Imagists to include an alternative, subversive history of modern art that is little studied in art colleges and under-represented in museum collections. Read the rest of this entry »

On the Grotesque

Basil Wolverton, Heap, 1955
© The Wolverton Estate. Courtesy Gladstone Gallery, New York

The grotesque got its name by mistake. When, one day in fifteenth-century Rome, a young man fell into a hole in a hillside, he assumed he’d discovered a Roman grotto. He fetched a lantern and found wild frescoes over the grotto’s walls: half-human, half animal figures, with legs and arms transforming into curling vines or ornamental volutes. In fact, he had stumbled upon Nero’s buried Villa Aurea, the raised floor level giving the rooms a grotto-like appearance. Nevertheless, the term “grotteschi” stuck as a label for this newly discovered style that radically dissented from the classical restraint to which the Renaissance had hitherto adhered. Read the rest of this entry »

Mike Kelley

Gagosian Gallery, Beverly Hills

Kandor 18 B (2010), photograph: Fredrik Nilsen

‘Portrait of the Artist as Superhero’

In 2000, Mike Kelley made a film titled Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #1 (Domestic Scene). It was the first of a series of works that reanimated photographs of carnivalesque performances he found in high school yearbooks such as plays or fancy dress days; he saw them, he said, as ‘rituals of deviance’.[i] Some were simply photographs; others comprised installations, video performances and original music. In 2005, he presented the series in his acclaimed exhibition ‘Day is Done’ at Gagosian Gallery in New York. (Matthew Higgs breathlessly suggested at the time that it was ‘the best show ever’.[ii])

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