LOS ANGELES, CA.-
The late artist told Artillery magazine about his failed attempt to buy his childhood home; his years of therapy, and his art-world fatigue: "Now I'm not in the mood to make art"
When Tulsa Kinney interviewed Mike Kelley for a cover story of Artillery, the bi-monthly magazine about contemporary art, it was because she believed the Los Angeles-based conceptual artist was creating his magnum opus. "Mobile Homeland," an installation that recreates Kelley's childhood home in Detroit, "is almost too fraught with psychology and dysfunction [
] things that could easily feel like an emotional burden," Kinney wrote in the February/March issue of Artillery, which appeared with exclusive photographs of Kelley. (The magazine is sold on newsstands, Barnes and Noble bookstores, and is distributed free in art galleries in Los Angeles.) Kinney didn't know that the articlefeaturing Kelley's last interviewwould offer insight into his apparent suicide on Tuesday, January 31.
Observing Kelley's evident melancholy, and describing his manner as robotic and monotone, Kinney was shocked when the artist told her that he intended to stop making art. "I've been working non-stop for years and years, and now I'm not in the mood to make art," he said in this final interview, which took place last November in his office in Highland Park, a neighborhood just north of downtown Los Angeles. "I'm trying to slow down."
The resulting cover story on Kelley was not just a prescient foreshadowing of the sad news to come, but offers answers to questions that grieving friends, family, and fans are asking themselves right now.
Art "was a profession I chose specifically in order to be a failure," the 57-year-old Kelley confided. Does that mean that his runaway success as a sculptor, musician, and performance artisthis work in the Whitney Biennial next month will be his eighth showing at that prestigious eventwas itself a failure? Ruminating on this, Kelley said that his switch in representation from his longtime New York gallery, Metro Pictures, to Gagosian, with its 11 international galleries, aided his career but at a cost. "Gagosian Gallery, unlike other galleries I have worked with, is not very familial," Kelley told Kinney. "I knew most of the artists at Metro Pictures personally. Gagosian is run in a much more businesslike way. Artists come and go."
In the interview, Kelley discusses his dysfunctional childhood, his nervous breakdown, a closeted gay teacher that he called his "replacement father," and his ambivalence with stardom. "I dont follow auctions," he said when asked pieces of his art that have sold for more than $1 million. "I have works that sell for tremendous amounts of money and others that I cant sell at all. "
Kinney, who has known Kelley for more than a decade, says she sensed the artist was depressed when she spoke with him. "For our interview we sat in a darkened living room, and he left the curtains drawn. As we spoke, he blankly stared straight ahead, replying to my questions in a deliberate monotone, she recalls. In an editorial note posted to Artillery's website after Kelley's death, she includes a quote from her transcripts that was not published in the article:
"I'm having a really hard time in my life right now with a lot of personal and family problems, and I don't need more art-world bullshit to make my life difficult."
Read an excerpt of the Artillery feature on Mike Kelley here