MIKE KELLEY (American, 1954-2012)

6mike kelley, american artists – 20thc, stuffed animals

At first, I didn’t realize that the stuffed animals had a monstrous quality. It took me a while to see it. When I first started buying craft objects it was because they were, obviously, gifts. I was interested in gift-giving. Artists were going on about this in the art world at the time-the artwork, as gift, was supposed to be an escape from the commodification of art. So I began buying things that I recognized were made by hand. My assumption was that they were meant to be given away-most craft objects are generally made, specifically, to be gifts. 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.

From Glenn O’Brien, “Mike Kelley” Interview (2008)

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