Details
MIKE KELLEY (B. 1954)
Ahh...Youth!
stamped with initials and dated 'M.K. 1991' and numbered '5/10' (on the reverse of each print)
eight Cibachrome prints
seven elements, each: 23 5/8 x 16 in. (60 x 40.6 cm.)
self-portrait: 23 1/8 x 15½ in. (58.7 x 39.3 cm.)
Executed in 1991. This work is number five from an edition of ten plus two artist's proofs. (8)
Provenance
Rosamund Felsen Gallery, Los Angeles
Acquired from the above by the present owner, 1992
Literature
R. Rugoff, "Dirty Toys: Mike Kelley interviewed," XXI Century, Winter 1992, pp. 4-11 (another example illustrated in color and on the cover).
In Search of Self, exh. cat., Durham, 1993, p. 45 (another example illustrated).
Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes, exh. cat., New York, 1993, pp. 177-180 (another example illustrated in color).
L'Immagine Riflessa, exh. cat., Prato, 1995, p. 131 (another example illustrated).
Everything That is Interesting is New: The Dakis Joannou Collection, Ostfildern-Ruit, 1996, pp. 138-139 (another example illustrated in color).
Mike Kelley, exh. cat., Barcelona, 1997, pp. 66-68 (another example illustrated).
American Playhouse: The Theatre of Self-Presentation, exh. cat., Toronto, 1998, pp. 94-95 (another example illustrated in color and on the back cover).
E. Janus, Veronica's Revenge: Contemporary Perspectives on Photography, Zurich, 1998, pp. 128-135 (another example illustrated in color).
Exhibited
New York, Metro Pictures, Carroll Dunham, Mike Kelley, Cindy Sherman, February-March 1991 (another example exhibited).
Ludwigshafen am Rhein, Wilhelm-Hack-Museum, Zeitsprünge: Kunstlerische Positionen der 80er Jahre, January-February 1993 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Hamburg, Kunstverein, 1995 (another example exhibited).
Hamburg, Kunsthalle, Family Values: American Art in the Eighties and Nineties, The Scharpff Collection at the Hamburg Kunsthalle, 1996, pp. 42-43 and 98 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Richmond, Virginia Commonwealth University, Anderson Gallery and Cincinnati, Contemporary Arts Center, Presumed Innocence, January-June 1998.
San Diego, Museum of Contemporary Art, 1-5 California: Four Decades of Contemporary Art, March 2001.
New York, Skarstedt Gallery, Self Portraits, October 2005 (another example exhibited).
St. Barthlemy, Me.di.um Gallery, Mike Kelley: 1975-1994, December 2005-January 2006, no. 17 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).
Chicago Cultural Center; Huntington Museum of Art; St. Catharines, Rodman Hall Arts Center; Lafayette, Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum and Richmond, Joel and Lila Harnett Museum of Art, Slightly Unbalanced, January 2008-March 2010, pp. 22-24 (another example exhibited and illustrated in color).

Lot Essay

Mike Kelley's collection of stuffed animals offers an unsettling assortment of mysterious creatures that were once much-loved children's toys, but which through Kelley's eyes have become a dark menagerie of sinister creatures. Arrayed like a procession of police mug shots, the seven creatures with their battered expressions, missing eyes, and hastily repaired facial features stare out with startled expressions like the proverbial rabbit caught in the headlights. In the fifth of the eight panels, Kelley inserts a yearbook photograph of himself, looking less the art world celebrity and more the disgruntled grungy adolescent. By including his own photograph, Kelley becomes not only the creator of the work, but also one of the objects of the public's adult gaze. He knows he looks awkward, stuffed, used and abused, displaying a past that is eternally lost, and yet, will always be visually present.

Despite their outwardly playful appearance, these images do not recall happy images of childhood. As the artist once elaborated, his work describes "a kind of black nostalgia, and by that I mean something akin to black humor. I am not 'going back' to reclaim some longed for positive experience from my youth, but to reexamine, from an adult point of view, some aesthetic experience that I feel I was unable to understand at that time ....I suppose you could say that I derive some kind of pleasure from this looking back, which could be associated with nostalgia. But I would have to say that I believe this pleasure results more from my enjoyment of the playful, formal, and perverse games of reconstructing and inventing the past than it does from some joyful recovery of lost experience" (M. Kelley, quoted in "Black Nostalgia. An Interview with Mike Kelley by Daniel Kothenschulte," in D. Kothenschulte (ed.), Mike Kelley, Peter Fischli, David Weiss, Ostfildern-Ruit, 2000, p. 30).

The handmade, "found" nature of the objects (they were often obtained from thrift stores) also provides an important element for Kelley's work in that it gives the artist a set of pre-existing elements with which to work. Kelley insists that his working process is largely intuitive, and that while he collected objects to use as the starting point for an artistic journey, the end-point of psychic significance was largely determined by his viewers: "The handmade objects I found in thrift stores were, most likely, not sold. I started hoarding them; I had never really looked at dolls or stuffed animals closely before. I became interested in their style--the proportions of them, their features. That's when I realized that they were monstrosities. But people are not programmed to recognize that fact-they just see them as generically human. Such objects have signifiers of cuteness-big eyes, big heads, baby proportions. You can empathize with those aspects of them. But when I blew them up to human scale in paintings they were not so cute anymore; if you saw something like that walking down the street, you'd go in the other direction. I became interested in toys as sculpture. But it's almost impossible to present them that way, because everybody experiences them symbolically. That's what led to my interest in repressed memory syndrome and the fear of child abuse. This wasn't my idea--I was informed by my viewers that this is what my works were about. I learn a lot from what my audience tells me about what I do" (M. Kelley, quoted in, G. O'Brain, "Mike Kelley," Interview, December/January 2009.

Adult reinterpretations of childhood and childhood memories have become an important subject for many of this generation's most influential contemporary artists. Ranging from Jeff Koons's playful Popples, 1988, to Urs Fischer's monumental sculpture Untitled (Lamp/Bear), 2005-2006, artists have appropriated images taken from childhood as a way of drawing the viewer into the work: "Everybody grew up surrounded by this material.... I use it to penetrate mass consciousness--to communicate to people" (J. Koons, The Jeff Koons Handbook, New York, 1993, p. 98). But Kelley does not simply wish to resurrect happy memories from one's youth but to reconsider those memories in the light of subsequent adult experiences. This distinctly psychological approach then opens up these objects to a range of psychoanalytic interpretations with potentially traumatic and dark metaphoric associations that might be suggested by the very fabric of these works. Clinical psychology views the treasured stuffed toy or cherished doll as a transitional object between the infant's hand-in-mouth activities, a form of self-pleasuring, and external attachments. As psychologist D. W. Winicott has highlighted, for the young child the transitional object becomes the conduit for "intense experiencing" that belongs to "play...artistic creation...religious feeling...and dreaming [even as] a regressive actualization of the object may result in adult 'fetishism' and 'criminality--lying and stealing'" (D. W. Winnicott, "Transitional Objects and Transitional Phenomena," 1951, quoted in J. C. Welchman, "The Mike Kelleys," in Mike Kelley, London, 1999, p. 71).

Ahh...Youth has become an iconic focal point within Kelley's wide-ranging body of work, through which he re-examines the anxieties and traumas of his childhood and adolescent years in installations and performances, thereby using his art to act as a therapeutic tool of re-enactment. As one of the most provocative and influential figures in Contemporary art, he became one of the leading artists to emerge from the West Coast art scene in the United States since the early 1990s.

Like the tabloid celebrities we love to see fall from grace, these mug-shots remind us of a darker underside to life that has the potential to exist in us all. Through this strange crossover between the worlds of the adult and the child, Kelley illustrates the uncomfortable aspects of the arbitrary and unspoken conditioning that makes us the supposedly well-adjusted grown-ups that we are. These much used toys appear as the frightening and grotesque relics of the often traumatic process through which a child makes his/her way into adulthood--pried away from innocence and molded through a gradual exposure to the more sordid realities of the world.
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