Mike Kelley, born in Detroit in 1954, is part of the same generation of artists as Robert Gober and Christopher Wool, although his work differs from theirs due to his greater enthusiasm for experimenting with various artistic media. After studying fine arts in Michigan and California, Kelley often collaborated with other artists in works of performance art. At the end of the 1980s, he started using soft toys in his work which were well suited to his socio-critical and often conceptualist approach and which soon brought him international success. The artist died at the age of 57 on January 31, 2012.
The major phases in Kelley’s development are represented in the Brandhorst Collection by impressive works: his early sheets inspired by comics in which he threw a critical light on American myths; installations with soft toys which tease a sinister element out of our all-so-familiar cuddly animals. In more recent multi-media installations, the superficial aesthetics of an underlying threat conjure up a bewildering mood. With the work The Keep (1998), the collection can boast one of Kelley’s major works. It is a reference to a cultural-historical motif (the hut in Henry David Thoreau’s book Walden, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin, or the refuge used by the Unabomber), adopted to draw attention to events in present-day America seen from an historical perspective.