Back to all news stories

Pushing you from your comfort zone

Called one of the most significant visual artists of his generation, Michael Kelley (photo left) pushed boundaries and introduced a distinctive Detroit sensibility into the international art world with his references to the city’s iconography, from Soupy Sales to the Vernor’s gnome.

A 1976 graduate of U-M’s School of Art & Design, the Detroit-born Kelley died on Wednesday (Feb. 1) at his home in Los Angeles, where he moved after graduation to pursue a master’s degree at the California Institute of the Arts. He received the School of Art & Design’s Distinguished Alumnus Award in 1998.

From his initial days at U-M, Kelley pursued his art in whatever direction and form it would take. Along with artists Niagara, Jim Shaw and Cary Loren, Kelley formed the art collective and anti-rock band, “Destroy All Monsters.” The band was influential for its brand of brash defiance, and is often cited as a breakthrough punk group along with Iggy Pop and the Stooges. While he worked in a variety of mediums, Kelley will be likely remembered for his complex installation art and confrontational style intended to push viewers from their comfort zone.

Shortly after his death, Kelley’s studio released the statement: “Mike was an irresistible force in contemporary art. We cannot believe he is gone. But we know his legacy will continue to touch and challenge anyone who crosses its path. We will miss him. We will keep him with us.”

Last fall, University of Michigan Museum of Art featured an exhibit of Kelley’s work. The exhibit, “Day is Done,” explored Kelley’s fascination with the seemingly irreconcilable worlds of pop and avant-garde culture. “Day is Done” was added to UMMA’s permanent collection.

The Detroit Institute of Arts includes Kelley’s “Carnival Time” in its permanent collection. His work has been exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and Whitney Museum of Art in New York, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, and Museum of Contemporary Art in Detroit.

Kelley’s work is among the selected pieces of the most influential contemporary artists in this year’s prestigious Whitney Biennial exhibit, March 1-27.

PHOTO CREDIT: Nashville Scene