Mike Kelley, Influential Artist And Detroit Native, Dies

Mike Kelley, the influential avant garde artist who was born in Detroit, graduated from Westland High School and the University of Michigan, has died, police said Wednesday. He was 57.

It appears Kelley committed suicide, according to several sources, one of whom told the New York Times he had recently broken up with a girlfriend and was depressed.

Kelley earned a bachelor’s of fine arts degree from the University of Michigan in 1976, and won his first National Endowment for the Arts fellowship in 1985. His works are included in collections ranging from the Guggenheim and Carnegie Museum to the Detroit Institute of Arts.

Kelley broke into pubic consciousness in 1993 with his exhibit “Catholic Tastes” at the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.

Kelley’s notable works included an installation at the DIA in 2001 titled “Blackout” where he “explores his nostalgia for the local culture of his youth in Westland, Michigan, while engaging in a fantasy search for the “Land O’ Lakes” girl during a boat trip to the islands of the Detroit River,” according to the DIA website.

The artwork is a large-scale sculpture similar to a statue of astronaut John Glenn that stood in the library of Westland High School, now covered with broken bottles, tools, flatware and pottery shards. It includes an eight-part photo montage in which large portions of the image were “blacked out.” 

“He sees these as analogous to lapses caused by repressed memories,” the DIA says on its website.

Kelley collaborated on artworks with such notables as Paul McCarthy and Tony Oursler. Sonic Youth used his art on the cover of a 1992 album.

An autopsy is pending.


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