Contemporary Artist, Detroit-Native, Mike Kelley Dead at 57

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Sad news from the art world today, respected contemporary artist and Detroit native Mike Kelley has died. He was 57. WDET’s Rob St. Mary spoke to Travis Wright about Kelley. Rob interviewed with Kelley recently.

(click the audio link above to hear the segment and interview)

Mike Kelley was born in Detroit in 1954 and raised in Westland. In the early 1970s, he attended the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor as an art student. While attending U of M, Kelley met fellow students and artists Jim Shaw and Niagara and her then boyfriend Cary Loren. The four started a collective called Destroy All Monsters. The group used photography, film, music, photocopied prints and other art pieces to create a body of work that focused on pop culture reference, collage and commentary on contemporary culture.

In 1976, Kelley headed to the California Institute of Arts to study for a Master’s degree. After graduation he climbed in the ranks of the contemporary art circles, garnering attention in the 1990s with solo shows at the Whitney and other international venues. Kelley's work has gone on to become part of such respected collections as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and other international museums.

In 1992, Kelley’s work came to the attention of indie rock fans when he designed the cover for the Sonic Youth album “Dirty”.

In 2005, with his exhibition "Day is Done", Kelley filled the Gagosian Galley with found yearbook photos, video footage and other objects. Recently it was announced that Kelley's work will be included in the upcoming Whitney Biennial exhibition. It would be the eighth time his work would be included in that prestigious program.

In November 2011 through January of this year, Kelley’s work with Destroy All Monsters was part of “Pacific Standard Time” – a retrospective of post-World War Two California artists. That’s when I had the opportunity to interview with him for a feature I did for the show. Here’s part of that interview.


Recently, the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit worked with Mike Kelley on a project called “Mobile Homestead” – a public sculpture he created in 2010 that was modeled after his boyhood home. The midtown Detroit museum was also planning to work with Kelley in a next few years on a permanent exhibition and educational component on contemporary art.

A PBS Art:21 segment on Mike Kelley from 2005.

Watch Memory on PBS. See more from ART:21.

A 2010 interview with Mike Kelley about his tastes in film and music.