The Childhood Home as an Unpleasant Work of Art
March 9, 2012
Photo via e-flux.
The Whitney Biennial kicked off at the beginning of the month, inviting New Yorkers and wayfaring art lovers to meander through Marcel Breuer’s monolithic building and take the pulse of the contemporary art scene. Among the works chosen by curators Elisabeth Sussman and Jay Sanders are three videos by artist Mike Kelley, whose untimely passing in late January sent a jolt through the art world. One of the videos documents a project six years in the making called Mobile Homestead, for which Kelley made a mobile replica of his childhood home after failing to secure the deeds for the actual property. The facsimile of the house was sent wheeling around the country, parking itself in front of city landmarks where the cheap suburban palace would appear jarringly out of place. More after the jump.
The plan for Mobile Homestead had also been to “take it to high schools to show kids what conceptual art is,” says Marsha Miro, founding director of the Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit, to New York Magazine. Kelley had also envisioned an even more elaborate addition to the modified trailer home, intending to build a two-story bunker containing an underground studio that would be concealed by the suburban, do-good façade when the trailer was properly parked above. While community education programs (including a free barbershop) occupied the ‘home’ above, the bunker below would house some strain of “subcultural life that [Kelley] always thought was so important,” says Sussman.
Kelley’s work has often been tinted with an almost unforgiving sense of bitterness, and Mobile Homestead does not escape this trope, despite intentions of community engagement and pedagogy. The traveling home seems to carry the weight of the artist’s emotional baggage, its expression of displacement far more distressing than, say, the overblown golden statue of David that recently made its way through the streets of New York (or that rock in Los Angeles that the art world can’t stop talking about). As Kelley wrote of the project in the Whitney catalogue, “As a public art, intended to have some sort of positive effect on the community in proximity to it, it is a total failure.” But in classic form, Kelley goes on to debunk ‘successful’ public art as a self-serving initiative, adding “Public art is a pleasure that is forced upon a public that in most cases finds no pleasure in it.”