Feature

Mike Kelley: Mobile Homestead

The “kitschy little tract home” was the last project of conceptual artist Mike Kelley, who committed suicide last January.

Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit
Permanent installation

“The kitschy little tract home on the grounds of the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit looks as out of place here in the big city as Dorothy’s farmhouse did after crash-landing in Oz,” said Michael H. Hodges in The Detroit News. The house, which is not intended for habitation, was the last project of the influential conceptual artist Mike Kelley, who committed suicide last January. On the outside, the building is a slightly fanciful replica of Kelley’s modest childhood home in nearby Westland, Mich. He also had two basement levels built that are accessible only by ladders and “labyrinthine” tunnels. The main floor will serve as a kind of community space, with its detachable, mobile front section periodically transported to other neighborhoods. “If that all seems a little odd and opaque, welcome to the weird, wonderful world of Mike Kelley.”

Mobile Homestead has left museum officials a bit tongue-tied, said Tyler Green in ArtInfo.com. Press materials describe it as “a permanent artwork” and “a public sculpture,” but a piece can hardly be permanent when part of it will be mobile, and the insufficient labels suggest that the hosts don’t understand what they’ve gotten themselves into. Mobile Homestead isn’t sculpture: It’s “really bricks-and-siding as subversion,” a gift, partly funded by Kelley’s foundation, that forces the museum to surrender its traditional curatorial function. Kelley apparently wanted artists to decide how to use the space, and thus to decide what events or objects are museum-worthy. Best of all, “Kelley has cloaked his rebellion in something Americans are trained to accept: the blandness of suburban architecture.”

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