Mike Kelley at Hauser & Wirth, New York

A glowing exhibition of the late artist’s Superman creations

Image: © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All rights reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

Visitors to Hauser & Wirth in New York are in for a dazzling spectacle from Thursday September 10 until Saturday October 24, when vitreous sculptures by the late Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley will be on view. The eponymous show explores the artist’s later Kandors series and features an installation of works (some of which are for sale, $65,000-$1.2m) cast in resin that glow throughout the dimly lit gallery.

Image: © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All rights reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
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Inspired by comic books, Superman in particular, Kandors is named after the superhero’s birthplace. As the story goes, Superman grows up believing his city has been destroyed – when in fact it has been shrunk to a miniature metropolis by his archenemy, Brainiac. Superman ultimately wrests control of Kandor and hides it in his Fortress of Solitude, where, as Kelley once explained, “it serves as a perpetual reminder of his inability to escape the past, and his alienated relationship to his present world”.

Image: © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All rights reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen
Image: © Mike Kelley Foundation for the Arts. All rights reserved/Licensed by VAGA, New York NY. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Fredrik Nilsen

This is the first New York show to focus exclusively on Kelley’s later oeuvre. His technically ambitious sculptures – many paired with video and sound – explore obsessions with memory, trauma and redemption, but are also beautiful investigations of colour, light and form. The exhibition unfolds with a number of small phosphorescent cities in vibrant hues (first and second pictures), and leads to Kandor 4 (third picture), a grouping of architectural wonders bathed in shades of red, yellow and royal blue. Spires and fantastical skylines are juxtaposed against glass jars (referencing the bubble Superman created to keep the citizens of Kandor alive), while a video projects atmospheric effects and there’s an ethereal soundtrack created by Kelley.

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A series of lenticular light boxes – inspired by 20 Superman illustrations – illuminate a darkened hallway leading to the show’s final work, Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude) from 2011. This massive installation fills the gallery’s main room: a cave-like atmosphere sets the stage for a monumental fortress – complete with apocalyptic gas tanks, hoses and chains – and a luminous, rose-coloured version of Kandor encased beneath a bell jar (fourth picture). It marks a fitting end to this exhibition of a series that Kelley described as “akin to paintings by Henri Matisse” – by turns funny, unsettling and illuminating.

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