The Galerie Sud at the Centre Pompidou seems to struggle to contain the work of Detroit native Mike Kelley, who committed suicide in 2012. The first retrospective in France gives the the impression of an anarchic jumble: it’s hard to know where one work ends and the next begins. A few helpful pointers wouldn’t have gone amiss; non-English speakers have to do without translations or video subtitles, leaving some visitors confused by a noisy, flickering maelstrom that switches between video, music, architecture, sculpture, drawings and installations.
And yet it works, almost, because Kelley’s art – diverting, subversive, sarcastic – delights in disorder. America enraged him. Western civilization, superfluous and vulgar, irritated him. And Kelley made it known, exaggerating these faults to shock his audience. Whether he’s arranging soft toys to mock school photos (‘Half a Man’, a series he began in 1987) or creating kitsch sculptures from trashy jewellery, his works mix trgedy and comedy, emotion and derision.
At the heart of the exhibition is ‘The Poetic Project’, which tells the story of the secret punk group that Kelley founded at the end of the ’70s: a room full of sculptures, paintings, videos, music and light installations. A cacophonous tour of the mind of an adolescent who dreamed of becoming famous, and the perfect resumé of an intransigent artist’s work, whose fury barely conceals a deep darkness.
Opening hours: Daily except Tue, 11am-9pm