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Mike Kelley’s multivalent work draws on the myths informing American culture, using its artifacts and detritus as his material. From 1999-2011, he made hundreds of works based on the DC Comics story of Kandor, the city of Superman’s origin that was miniaturized and brought to earth in a glass jar. This comprehensive installation of Kandor works includes selections from Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction: videos that reenact (and extravagantly elaborate) photographs from high school yearbooks. Combined with Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction, the Kandor project seems less like a boyhood fantasy, and more of a subversive commentary on American civilization as represented in the discarded records of its educational institutions.
The majority of the Kandor sculptures, such as Kandors Full Set (2005-2009), are miniature resin cityscapes contained under blown-glass jars. Faithfully derived from the original comic book depictions of Kandor, the sculptures are glowing, translucent forms reminiscent of modernist utopian architecture and design. However, when Kandor is rendered on a human scale, such as in Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude) (2011), it becomes rough-hewn, blackened, and oppressive. The Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction videos are displayed within these structures: #35 (Dour Gnomes) (2010) enacts scenarios of grey drudgery, whereas #36 (Vice Anglais) (2011) portrays sadomasochistic encounters between a clown, a football player, a bride, and other assorted malevolents.
A self-identified product of Roman Catholic education, Kelley made objects and narratives wherein the broken, unmanageable, or vulnerable is hidden by beautiful, yet failed promises of absolute systems, including the Catholic church, American idealism, and high modernism (to name a few). While the birds-eye Kandors depict civilization as glowing, platonic forms, the human-scale Kandors and Extracurricular series show the subverted reality that is occluded by this view. The Kandors project engages in the broad stories that get told about civilizations, as well as the intimate ones told inside of them.
Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999-2011 runs October 27, 2017-January 21, 2018 at Hauser & Wirth (901 East 3rd Street, Los Angeles CA 90013).