Mike Kelley (b. 1954)
Mike Kelley (b. 1954)
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Works from the Peter Norton Collection
Mike Kelley (b. 1954)

Arena #11 (Book Bunny)

Mike Kelley (b. 1954)
Arena #11 (Book Bunny)
knitted wool afghan with attached fabric stuffed bunny, two Raid spray cans and "Roget's Thesaurus"
10 x 74 x 60 in. (24.5 x 186.9 x 152.4 cm.)
Executed in 1990. (4)
Metro Pictures, New York
Fredrik Roos, Stockholm
Per Skarstedt Fine Art, New York
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1994
N. Israel, "Almost Warm and Fuzzy", Artforum, May 2001, pp. 171-172 (illustrated).
New York, Metro Pictures, Mike Kelley, April-May 1990.
Washington D.C., Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Mike Kelley: Half a Man, February-May 1991.
North Miami, Museum of Contemporary Art, Arrested Childhood, May-July 1994, n.p. (illustrated).
Des Moines Art Center; Tacoma Art Museum; Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art; New York, P.S. 1 Center for Contemporary Art; Barcelona, Fundació La Caixa; Sacramento, Crocker Art Museum; Ontario, Art Gallery of Hamilton; Memphis Brooks Museum of Art; Cleveland Center for Contemporary Art, Almost Warm and Fuzzy: Childhood and Contemporary Art, September 1999-November 2002.
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Mike Kelley Arenas, May-June 2010, p. 38, pl. 11 (illustrated).

Lot Essay

Mike Kelley's Arena series captures many artistic threads prevalent in the 1980s, including appropriation, kitsch and the abject, resulting in a powerful commentary on human psychology and American culture. The artist began working with decidedly used plush animals and afghans in one of the seminal works of his career, More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid (1987), a wall panel of such objects that were seemingly abandoned and mashed together into a quilt-like formation. The soiled components both repulse and attract the viewer: the objects remain dirty from use by small children, yet such interactions between a child and his beloved companion pull at the heartstrings of any adult who has a similar memory. The readymade components are no longer singular banal playthings used for enjoyment, but emotion triggers, loaded with "hours" of love.

Kelley continued to explore this particular medium of second hand toys after attending a studio critique at Art Center, Pasadena. Here, he witnessed a peer's child sitting on a blanket of her own and then arranging her toys in a way that was re-creating the critique taking place. The artist then began to create scenes of his own, inviting the viewer to become a participant in an intimate setting that inevitably evokes one's own childhood experiences. The artist himself has said of these works: "My shift of interest to the individual craft item led me away from my earlier accumulation works into the Arenas series consisting of stuffed animals in arrangements on blankets laid on the floor. In these works I played the inclination to project into the figures, to construct an inner narrative around them, against the viewer's awareness of his or her physical presence. This self-consciousness was produced by using extremely worn and soiled craft materials. The viewer's immediate tendency to be sucked into a narrativizing situation is repelled when they get close enough to sense the unpleasant tactile qualities of the craft materials. Fear of becoming soiled counters the urge to idealize." (M. Kelley, "In the Image of Man," in Mike Kelley 1985-1996, Museu d'art Contemporain de Barcelona, p.68)

Arena #11 (Book Bunny) includes a singular plush bunny, seated on a circular blanket that references the many story time meetings taking place daily in American pre-schools. The bunny leads an audience of two Raid cans, transforming what is normally recognized as a calm space of imagination into one of impending danger. The "story book," too, a copy of Roget's Thesaurus, implies the manipulation of our everyday language and encourages the viewer to recognize the plurality of symbols normally encountered in day-to-day activities, particularly those interpretations which probe one to explore and address discomfort.

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