The last time Mike Kelley’s final art installation was on view it was in Detroit, Mich.—the city where he was born.
Now, after thousands of miles and numerous days on the road, Mobile Homestead has made its way to Los Angeles at the Geffen Contemporary at the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA), ready to be used in the upcoming weeks as an event venue for several organizations.
The Mobile Homestead exhibit challenges what art is and what it can and cannot do, because—as the installation's title suggests—this exhibit is literally a home on wheels, complete with end tables and tiny white chairs. Yet, when you step in and become surrounded by the home’s white interior, you’ll feel like you’re in an actual gallery. And that's Mobile Homestead's incredible ability; it creates its own gallery space, but at the same time it stands as artwork by itself.
The physical home is a gem. The design is simple, with an all-white exterior, teal window moldings and a black roof. However, it draws attention when set in this urban downtown area away from the suburbs. But nostalgia does manage to seep through its doorway, which makes sense since Mobile Homestead is a replica of Kelley’s childhood home.
Kelley, who died in 2012 at the age of 57, created art that mined “American popular culture and both modernist and alternative traditions, which he set in relation to relentless self and social examinations, both dark and delirious,” according to MOCA. Throughout his career, his art tackled many themes such as sexuality, repressed memory, religion, post-punk politics and American class relations. In Mobile Homestead, poverty, homelessness and class inequality seem to be the major themes.
The true meaning of this exhibition lies within the home—not its exterior. On a 4-foot-wide wall, for example, homage is paid to the past and present of L.A.’s Skid Row neighborhood, where many homeless people call their home.
Upon walking through the mobile home's door, you’ll notice a timeline detailing Skid Row's history—how the tenants fought for and continue to fight for their right to low-income housing—spanning over 100 years. Beginning in 1891 and ending this year, the black-and-white timeline covers most of the space on the wall.
Under, above and on the side of the timeline are articles, mostly from the Los Angeles Times, showcasing this history. What was once pure journalism has melded and changed into history throughout this amazing and informative timeline.
Bright portraits sit on the timeline's edges and on the walls. They are photographs superimposed over abstract paintings. However, Kelley did not create these portraits; an artist who goes by the name “Mr. Brainwash” did. His portraits are of Walk the Talk honorees and Skid Row visionaries who have worked hard to make the neighborhood a community.
But the greatest overall feature of Kelley’s Mobile Homestead is its sense of collaboration. This single space acts as an art exhibition, an incubator for activism and a storage house for history and journalism. Granting the viewer a sense of awe and a feeling of triumph, this exhibit ultimately switches up art’s function, turning it into something completely different.
Mike Kelley's Mobile Homestead is on view from now until July 28, 2014 at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA.