Mike Kelley, born in 1954 in Detroit, Michigan, currently belongs to one of the most-discussed artists in the USA, while his work is hardly known in Europe. With his spatial installation "Alma Pater" at Portikus, Kelley now has his first solo presentation at a public exhibition hall in Germany.

Stemming from a catholic working-class milieu, he studied at the California Institute of Arts in Valencia. Both his proletarian, emotion-oriented, and religiously-rooted taste in art and an ironic-intellectual distance to this characterise his works. Kelley is not devoted to one specific art genre. At the end of the 70s, he predominantly produced performances with music and language, combined with body action. More recently, he has attracted considerable attention with his installations made of old and worn cuddly toys and garbage bags; but oil paintings and pictogram-like pictures made of fabrics are also part of his artistic repertoire. We are dealing with a thematically-oriented artist who can potentially adopt any type of material. Mike Kelly deliberately provokes, because he is interested in "the breaking apart of cultures, in their fringes and fragmented zones: the ideological breaches within a culture falsely perceived as a unity", as he says. The aesthetic transgressions (his works initiate) relate to current postmodern culture with an amount of tension comparable the relation of Pop Art to late-modernist culture in the 50s. In this respect, the exhibition at Portikus is a logical succession to the previous "Multiples"-exhibition by Claes Oldenburg.

In his work "Alma Pater (Wolverine Den)", Kelley makes reference to the masculine aesthetics prevailing in the old American universities by altering the traditional term "Alma Mater" to "Alma Pater". The subtitle "Wolverine Den" refers to the football team of the University of Michigan, where Mike Kelley studied, called "Wolverines". The banner spanning the installation shows logos of the University of Michigan which can otherwise be found on T-shirts, football shirts, stickers, etc. Such objects are merchandised by universities in the US; they are part of their marketing policy. Two specially-made horse portraits allude to competition and fighting spirit and at the same time imply an ironic critique: one horse has traces of milk around its mouth, the other has tears running out of its eyes.

Photo: Katrin Schilling