Mike Kelley is written about as one of "the most influential artists of our time." Born in 1954, he was an innovative multi-medium artist based in Los Angeles after growing up in Detroit, Michigan. He mentioned that he hoped to scrutinize mass culture with his work, in order to "discover what is hidden, repressed, within it." With his experience working with photography, sculpture, performances, video, and drawing and painting, he explores themes in culture with various mediums. However, his work shown at the Patrick Painter Gallery in Santa Monica is much less exciting.
Upon entering the gallery itself, the viewer is presented with a "hero piece," a large photograph of a fake-rock structure in Detroit. The photo itself is muddy in color and slightly desaturated. The press release for the show mentions that the viewer's expectations are meant to be challenged by the presentation of garbage as art, but all that can be seen is garbage in cheap black frames. Though Detroit itself can be a dreary place, the images at the Painter gallery are taken out of context and stripped of most of their luster.
Without the performance aiding Kelley's Project, Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile, the spectator is left with thirty-four dreary black and white photographs of pages from books displaying cave formations. Out of context, the photos are also out of style and are shown in a large rectangular chunk covering an entire wall of the gallery. They read as what they are, just photos of pages from a book, nothing exceptional. The viewer is left wanting more.
One piece offers a glimmer of hope to the show: Psychic Waveforms. The large photograph is a combination of four frames and the result of a technical malfunction when developing negatives. Kelley was hoping to photograph an artist's sculpture garden and found that the negative images were marred by white wave patterns. Instead of throwing away the roll, he combined four of the frames to suggest that the marks found on the rolls were meant to be there and were evidence of psychic activity, caught on film. The black and white image is framed poorly and the glass reflects distracting light but the piece itself is impressive, a ghostly pattern of white waves repeating across the darkness. Kelley has found beauty in the repetition of form.
Unfortunately Psychic Waveforms does not redeem the show itself. Though the hanging of the photographs on display was thoughtful with regards to placement, there are amateur mistakes marring the viewer's experience. For example, upon walking up to a photograph, the spectator will notice pencil marks on the wall itself, pointing to where to hang the piece. Another distracting element to the exhibition is the apparent cheapness of the frames and glass, as they are dusty, display fingerprints, and are so reflective that it's hard to fully see the photograph within. This show had some potential but the presentation of the work made it hard to fully appreciate any one piece.