Thursday, July 17, 2014
Mike Kelly and Henry
Can I just tell you that my son Henry is the easiest kid to hang around with in the universe? He's been bugging me for months to take him to the Mike Kelly exhibit downtown at MOCA, not because he's some modern art aficionado, but because his much-respected art teacher from school recommended it. I know nothing about Mike Kelly and agreed with the caveat that we'd stop for lunch. Henry ordered a burger and fries, and I had three Blue Point oysters and two pieces of toast with tomatoes and burrata. Then we walked over to MOCA and were basically assaulted by Mike Kelly.
The above photo was in a part of the massive exhibit where photography was allowed, and it was really one of the only pieces of art that I "understood" and -- let's be honest -- liked. Do you know Mike Kelly? Evidently he's extraordinary, and the sheer amount of art, coupled with so many mediums (painting, sculpture, video) was certainly awe-inspiring, but most of it was utterly obscure for the likes of me, disturbing and downright overwhelming. At one point, I read a description of his installation of resin replicas of Superman's city, admittedly pretty cool, but what stood out on that little wall plaque were the words Sylvia Plath, and that was because they were the only ones I understood. I don't even like Sylvia Plath, but, god, I was grateful for her familiarity in that moment. I stood in front of a giant video screen and watched a little boy sitting in a barber's chair get his mouth smeared with shaving cream while the barber said things like Do you want a pussy mouth? while a pink-lipsticked effeminate man looked on, smiling like a clown. I tried to be open-minded, read the accompanying description in the hope of getting it, pushed away my horror and breathed. Do you think it's true that great art is disturbing? I'm not sure about that, but what I do know is that I glanced at Henry, and we did some telepathy and walked away. I longed for Oliver to be around to say something cogent like this is creepy and I could do this! and I hate museums! and art is stupid! -- but he's still shooting rifles and toasting marshmallows at camp. You know those guards that stand silently in museum rooms? I felt drawn to them, actually -- wondered whether they were quietly going insane with this exhibit. I smiled like a kind and sympathetic grandmother at them.
We wandered through rooms where you could barely hear, much less think, because of recorded screaming and industrial screeching and whining, and between the cacophony and the giant penises and poster art of people screwing -- well -- I was ready to get the hell out of Dodge. I will say that the corridor of paintings of great philosophers with quotes about criminality and art was pretty spectacular, and I learned that Kelly made a stipulation that this installation must culminate with a painting by a local criminal and that there must also be two boxes for donations to victims' rights groups.
We made our way out into the blinding sunshine and walked back to our car, stopping at a Japanese tea shop where I bought a coffee milk tea and tried to right my head on my body so that I could drive home. I told Henry that I either had a bad oyster or Mike Kelly made me feel queasy, and when he asked whether he could drive home (did I tell you that he has his learners' permit?), I said that I couldn't take any more harrowing, mind-bending experience for the day.
Posted by Elizabeth at 6:44 PM
Labels: art, Henry, Mike Kelly, museum, stress, Sylvia Plath
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Oh my dear! I don't think it was the oysters that upset your stomach.ReplyDelete
Bless you for going through that. I hope you don't dream of any of it tonight.
I love that Henry wanted to go because his art teacher suggested it. Other than that, it all sounds horrid. I hope the milk tea helped.ReplyDelete
God, I hope it wasn't a bad oyster.ReplyDelete
Interesting re the artist's stipulations.
Good luck re that driving thing. I knew I had gone round the bend when I kept wondering if I could pour an alcoholic beverage in my coffee mug before those practice drives.
What is a coffee milk tea?ReplyDelete
Elizabeth, remember your Reuben casserole? How many people did that recipe feed? I am making it for a funny dinner party where there will be 4 guests eating it tomorrow night. Thanks. Sweet JoReplyDelete
A: I'm not really sure, to tell you the truth. It tasted like sweet and milky black tea, and I'm assuming there was a shot of espresso or coffee syrup in it, too.ReplyDelete
Sweet Jo: It was quite large -- enough to feed probably 6.
Sounds deeply unpleasant.ReplyDelete
That exhibit sounded awful! I think I must've seen some of his work in Chicago- it involved awful video displays with screaming clowns. I'm sorry your art day was such a bust, and what was that teacher hoping to accomplish with that recommendation? At least you got to spend time with your son :)ReplyDelete
Henry time. That's the worthwhile part. Probably the oysters too. Doubt they were the cause. Sounds horrific!!ReplyDelete
Thank you! Sweet JoReplyDelete
Wow. That sounds intense. I don't know Mike Kelly, and I'm both drawn to and repulsed by what you've described. Did the art teacher tell his students what they should be looking for in the exhibit, what they should try to get out of it? I kind of hope he gets shown here in England so I can satisfy my curiosity!ReplyDelete
I try to keep an open mind with any art - for some artists it's the ONLY way they know to express themselves. Think about the written word - why is it ok to express the same ideas with words but not with pictures? Pictures are so basic to our psyche - and can feel like an assault. The written word is something we have evolved into - so we can intellectualize it - keep our distance.ReplyDelete
(Never eat oysters on a month without the letter "r" in it.)
I guess one could argue that “good” art like “good” prose or "good" film will initiate a response from its audience. To me, this artist is exhibiting a kind of in-your-face Tarantino-esque glamorization of violence and/or perversion, bringing light to a lifestyle that exists and is often closeted. It is a very personal perspective and may appeal to those who share this experience or frame of reference. If we are to embrace our constitution, this point-of-view deserves expression even if most or some folks are repulsed by it. Personally, I share your perspective and am not inspired by it. I would not enjoy this exhibit but respect that it may have significance to others.ReplyDelete
sometimes i lament the lack of modern/contemporary art exhibitions in this country - but i've never left the, say, etruscan museum with a queasy and uneasy feeling. on the contrary, i'm always looking forward for a chance to visit once more!ReplyDelete