A celebration of artist Mike Kelley’s prolific career began on Sunday at the MOCA (Museum of Contemporary Art) in the Geffen Contemporary space, a huge cavernous building now filled with drawings, paintings, installations, video art, music, photography, sculpture and more by Mike Kelley. His work grabs modern culture by the throat and subverts it into a twisted dream that is so deeply personal that it becomes eerily universal.
Upon walking in the door, it’s as if you’re transported to an alternate world where familiar chunks of pop culture imagery, sound and texture are tortured in a blender with heavy doses of fantasy, darkness and deep truth. It’s like reliving your childhood and teenage years through the lens of a really smart friend on acid.
The highlight for me was a re-staging of the 1989 performance piece Pansy Metal Clovered Hoof, which was a collaboration between Mike Kelley and my friend, choreographer Anita Pace, pictured here photographing her show between the dancers. It’s a ‘runway model’ subversion set to Motörhead’s Orgasmatron, which was how I got Richard to come.
“Mike and I were looking to represent his premiere of the banners for his gallery as fashionable wear, presented in the form of a fashion show with model ramps, poking fun and embracing these types of presentations juxtaposed to dark, head banging music,” says Anita, who has also recently staged the show in Amsterdam and New York.
“We used slightly pagan and dark smoky club dance language to build the repetetive choreographic movements,” Anita says. “And repeating the whole piece twice was to keep it coming at you just when you thought it was over! For me particularly, I love to get dancers to this point of exhaustion as you really get an honest feel to their movements and emotions as they are sweating and pushing hard.”
The dancers, Erica Carpenter, Beau Dobson and Jos McKain, were mesmerizing in their flowing silk banners and powerful gestures and movements that felt almost medieval. And as Violet pointed out to me afterward, “You can see their underwear!” It’s a testament to the compelling nature of the piece that Violet and Anita’s twins Liam and Lily, all five years old, were riveted – and the twins have already seen it twice!
Anita explained to me that the outdoor setting with Los Angeles sunshine isn’t the usual venue for Pansy Metal. “It is supposed to be in a dark, dramatically lit strip club looking environment so this version at MOCA was very different presentation. It was more heroic with the tall building behind them and the museum around and the sky of course.”
Here’s a movie of the piece from the MOMA PS1 exhibit in NYC.
And here are the horrifying lyrics to Orgasmatron:
I am the one, Orgasmatron, the outstretched grasping hand
My image is of agony, my servants rape the land
Obsequious and arrogant, clandestine and vain
Two thousand years of misery, of torture in my name
Hypocrisy made paramount, paranoia the law
My name is called religion, sadistic, sacred whore.
I twist the truth, I rule the world, my crown is called deceit
I am the emperor of lies, you grovel at my feet
I rob you and I slaughter you, your downfall is my gain
And still you play the sycophant and revel in your pain
And all my promises are lies, all my love is hate
I am the politician, and I decide your fate
I march before a martyred world, an army for the fight
I speak of great heroic days, of victory and might
I hold a banner drenched in blood, I urge you to be brave
I lead you to your destiny, I lead you to your grave
Your bones will build my palaces, your eyes will stud my crown
For I am Mars, the god of war, and I will cut you down
Here’s Anita before the performance with her twins Liam and Lily, and her husband John Welchman, a writer and art scholar smartypants who has written half the books in the shop for the Mike Kelley show. He also has a hell of a soccer kick.
And as if Mike Kelley weren’t cool enough, here he is in his 70’s punk, noise, experimental Detroit band, Destroy All Monsters.
The wearable banners from Pansy Metal.