58 1 3
Mike Kelley, 'Kandors', installation view, 2007

Wow! None of your abject ‘trouble in paradise’ transgressive madness on show here then. No dubiously stained cuddly toys as previously favoured by the California- based artist. Kandors is a whirling dervish of a show by the one time punk and self confessed pants shitter. Described in Artforum by Robert Storr back in 2004 as a provoker and counterpuncher, Kelley throws some upper cuts to blindside us. His ‘embrace of failure’ as Storr puts it has been blown away and he now follows through (ouch) by revisiting the Finish Fetish of West Coast utopias, the ‘emphatic uncool’ of his effluent works firmly on the back burner. Welcome to the pleasure dome…

Revamped clichés on beauty are wildy spun together into an installation based on the fantastic bottled city of Kandor, the capital and only surviving township from Superman’s planet Krypton. Apparently the Kandorians were subsequently settled on
a new planet brilliantly named Rokyn. We are presented here with a mad lab of glowing bell jars and gas cylinders—more Boyle than boils if you like—placed on pristine Judd referencing furniture-like plinths. There is a bright clean aesthetic on display, the use of high end fabrication—the antithesis of Kelley’s previous grunge. Hallucinogenic colours abound, Kandors is eye candy—refined visual hedonism. Versions of Kandor vary from piles of what looks like turkish delight to Mondrian primary-coloured blocks like Lego. All the architectural designs seem invested with a proleptic vision of the future akin to Lang’s Metropolis models.

Los Angeles looms large—perhaps our nearest equivalent to the mythical lost city of dreams. In his book City of Quartz, Mike Davis offers a vision of LA as playing a ‘double role of utopia and dystopia for advanced capitalism’—thus, referencing Brecht’s view of the city as heaven and hell is of relevance here. Contemporary discussions on fabrication are referenced too. The Kavalier glass factory in the Krypton-sounding town of Sazava in the Czech Republic is also acknowledged. Their coloured jars and Kelley’s obsessions with memory recalls Nabokov’s short story ‘Signs and Symbols’. The fruit preserves in the tale, with their colours of apricot, grape, quince and crab apple are so like the Matissean palette on display. Kelley has been considered an anti–innocent, but it is hard not to bring childlike wonder to the viewing of this show. He seems to hit out at nihilistic expectation in these desperate times.

The caveat to outright adoration is Kelley’s white noise soundscapes which to these ears were a bit too Madhattan, a bit too Lou. The vibe here is more Todd Rundgren at his Wizard best, a True Star Toddest or Caribou say, today’s new hero of 21st century psychedelia. Can it be true some malcontent bopped Kelley at the opening? There’s no pleasing some folks—this is an in your face gesamtkunstwerk of video, sculpture and lightboxes, a walk-in Lichtenstein. Now that’s what I call rockin’.

John Quin is a writer based in London and Berlin