Mike Kelley (American, 1954–2012) was regarded as one of the most influential members of the contemporary Conceptual Art movement. His multimedia work, ranging from performance and installation to painting and photography, features souvenirs of popular culture, such as stuffed animals or crocheted couch throws, evoking an atmosphere of the uncanny. In his postmodern world, the high and low are combined in philosophical investigations of contemporary society, joined with a 1950s comic book style, creating absurd, sometimes humorous portrayals of the American middle class and its conceptions of the normative.
Kelley studied at the University of Michigan and at the California Institute of the Arts, and was influenced by 1960s Conceptual artists. In the early 1970s, he formed his own rock band, and staged performances including photographs, objects, and drawings. In the mid-1980s, Kelley continued using found objects in his installations and focused on psychological issues in his work, treating topics such as abuse and repression as the traumatic remains of a dysfunctional society. Themes of biography and autobiography became increasingly important in his work in the 1990s. Kelley participated in documenta 9 and 10 in Kassel, Germany, and has held solo shows at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Tate Liverpool, and at the Louvre in Paris. Kelley also received attention for his work as an art and music critic, and as a curator of numerous exhibitions.
Kelley died in Los Angeles at the age of 57.