Friday, December 15, 2017

Review of Mike Kelley: Kandors 1999-2011 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles

Art © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All Rights Reserved / Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy the Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

MIKE KELLEY: Kandors 1999-2011

Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles
The exhibition is on view through January 21, 2018

As a child, I have always fantasized about having my own secret headquarters where I can be free from the outside world. All of this was fueled by my reading of comic books such as Batman (The Bat-Cave) and Superman (The Fortress of Solitude). The Bat-Cave seemed to fit, if not my budget, at least my aesthetic of living in a cave full of computers and lab equipment, plus a large garage to house my Bat-Mobile. Still, Superman's pad of choice, The Fortress of Solitude, appealed to my minimalist nature, and since Superman can't feel the cold, this is the only location for him to meditate and think about the world that he has been placed in. Mike Kelley's "Kandors 1999-2011" immediately brought up my childhood feelings for a secret, but a secure place that will separate me from the cruel outside world.

Kandor is the imaginary city of Superman's birth on the planet Krypton. The villain Brainiac, who first appeared in "Action Comics" (#242) in July of 1958, shrunk and bottled the entire city of Kandor, until Superman rescued the bottles and had them placed within his sanctuary The Fortress of Solitude. When we enter the gallery spaces, we approached rock formations or borders that look very much like they came from outer space. The rooms are almost pitch dark, except for lighting focusing on the rock sculptures and a projection of a video by Kelly in the next room. I spent a lot of time in this room, not only watching the video, but also to get the feel of my childhood as I walked around the sculptures and placing myself back in time.

The other gallery is the actual representation of Kandor in various bottles, with mock-up architectural models of the city as well as two or more workers doing design work for the preservation of the city Kandor. At this point, one wonders if Kelley planned to build his version of Kandor, which in fact, he did, and that is what is being exhibited in this current show at Hauser and Wirth Los Angeles. Again, my childhood love for the Superman comic makes me feel very comfortable with the exhibition space. I relate to the oxygen tanks that are pumping air into these bottles, and also they are figures of great beauty, especially with the lighting and the reflection of these giant jars with the cities in them.

Kelley was rebuilding Kandor but also making his version of the narrative that is Kandor on the planet Krypton. There is a strong sense of placement or home in this work, and it is both a joyful and sad experience to walk through these ruins. Superman, although I never took him seriously, I now think of him as an immigrant who had lost his home. Of course, due to the modern world's making, we see this issue come up again and again. There is the political/natural disaster of such an existence, and then to focus all of that on Superman is also a portrait of a figure who has no real home. The secret headquarters, which houses his culture, away from the prying eyes of the earthlings. It's a sad and profound statement on a world that is both imagined as well as being real. Mike Kelley's "Kandors" is a fascinating exhibition and one of the best shows I have seen in a long time.
- Tosh Berman


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