20 February – 3 May 2004
Mike Kelley, Los Angeles-based sculptor, performance and installation artist, is one of the most significant artists working today. Hard to categorise, Kelley has dissected the moral and cultural conventions and practices of contemporary society with deadpan humour in performances, installations, architectural models, paintings, drawings and music. The Uncanny is the first large-scale solo show devoted to the artist in the UK since his survey exhibition at the ICA, London in 1992.
The Uncanny is based on a project originally presented by Kelley more than a decade ago, which has been revised and updated for Tate Liverpool in close collaboration with the artist. Freud described the uncanny as ‘a hidden, familiar thing that has undergone repression and then emerged from it’. In The Uncanny, Kelley explores memory, recollection, horror and anxiety through the juxtaposition of a highly personal collection of objects – The Harems – with an investigation of the uncanny through realist figurative sculpture.
The central element of the exhibition consists of a substantial number of polychrome figurative sculptures, ranging from ancient Egypt and China to the present day which embody the feeling of the uncanny through their scale and use of colour, form and material. Kelley relates these to the idea of the ‘double’ – the disturbingly realistic representation of the human figure suspended between life and death. Artists represented include John de Andrea, Hans Bellmer, Judy Fox, Robert Gober, Duane Hanson, Damien Hirst, Edward Kienholz, Jeff Koons, Tony Matelli, Paul McCarthy, Ron Mueck, Tony Oursler, and many more. Non-art objects include a variety of historical and contemporary anatomical models, wax figures, animatronic puppets and stuffed animals. This section is complemented by a large collection of black and white documentary photographs depicting figurative sculptures from the Ancient world to the contemporary, including wax figures, Dada and Surrealist mannequins, film stills, newspaper clippings and cartoons whose imagery and subject matter evoke the sense of the ‘uncanny’.
The spectacular section of sculptures is complemented by The Harems. These consist of sixteen groups of object types accumulated by the artist throughout his lifetime, from childhood to the present, ranging from marbles and squeeze toys to hundreds of bubble gum cards, postcards, record covers, magazines and found church banners. The work is on-going as Kelley continues to add items to various of the object groups. The Harems have been called ‘a collection of collections’ bringing together autobiographical elements with an investigation into the urge to collect and categorise as a means of understanding but also controlling the world.
The exhibition at Tate Liverpool is an opportunity not only for the artist to recreate The Uncanny, but to update it, so that the exhibition itself becomes a work in progress. The uncanny, and its attendant (compulsions), such as (the impulse to collect), are thus enacted rather than merely represented.
Born in the United States in 1954, he studied at the University of Michigan School of Art, Ann Arbor (1972-76) and at the California Institute of the Arts, Valencia (1976-78), before settling in Los Angeles. In 1993 a retrospective exhibition of his work was organised by the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York.
The Uncanny is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue, reprinting Mike Kelley’s seminal essay on the uncanny with a new introduction by the artist as well as (an) extensive history and analysis of the work by scholar and critic John C. Welchman.
A series of events will also take place at the gallery to complement the exhibition:
In Conversation: Mike Kelley and John Welchman
Friday 20 February
6.00 – 7.30pm
£4, £3 concessions (includes post-talk drink)
A rare opportunity to hear Mike Kelley, artist and curator of The Uncanny, discuss his work and recent writings, Foul Perfection MIT 2003 with John Welchman, Professor of Modern History at the University of California and contributor to the exhibition catalogue.
The Uncanny Day
Friday 5 March
10.00am – 5.00pm
A one-day conference to complement Mike Kelley: The Uncanny in collaboration with CRASSH at Cambridge and The University of Liverpool.
Chair: Beate Perrey
Speakers include Professor Gillian Beer, University of Cambridge; Professor Malcolm Bowie, Christ’s College, Cambridge; Dr Alyce Mahon, University of Cambridge; and Professor Penny Florence, Slade School of Fine Arts.
Bringing together leading scholars and critics this informal study day explores the phenomenon, notion and sensation of The Uncanny with talks and discussions as well as a guided tour of the exhibition.