The exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles will begin with ‘Kandor-Con 2000’ (1999/2007)’, the first work and touchstone of the Kandors series. This deeply layered installation includes an animation of the city of Kandor; architectural models of Kandor built up over time by onsite model-makers; a group of preparatory pencil Bottle renderings made in 2005; collages of original renderings of the comic book city; and ‘Superman Recites Selections from “The Bell Jar” and Other Works by Sylvia Plath’, a video of an actor as Superman quoting excerpts from Plath’s only novel and various poems. Banners projecting the completion date humorously reflect the impossibility of the endeavor.
On view for the first time in the United States, ‘Kandors Full Set’ (2005 – 2009) comprises twenty large-scale, glass bell jars or bottles and twenty-one cast resin miniature cities – the full sweep of Kelley’s three-dimensional miniature interpretations of the city. This series is presented in total darkness in accordance with Kelley’s focus on the light-scattering properties of the glass vessels.
The exhibition also includes the 2007 works ‘Kandor 1’, ‘Kandor 3’, ‘Kandor 7’, and ‘Kandor 17’. ‘The problem I set out for myself’, Kelley said of the early Kandor sculptures, ‘was to translate the two-dimensional comic-book renderings into three-dimensional sculptures. As I envisioned them, they would be akin to paintings by Henri Matisse in three dimensions, with science-fiction overtones’. Each of these sculptures includes an illuminated miniature version of the Kandor city on a plinth, encased in a glass bell jar coupled with faux gas tanks and hoses, which intend to evoke the life sustaining vapors that Superman used to keep the citizens of Kandor alive. Video projections, depicting the bottles with swirling atmospheric and light effects inside them, feature an otherworldly soundtrack composed by Kelley. Lenticulcar lightboxes manipulate the two-dimensional designs and colors of the comic book illustrations. Of these, Kelley wrote, ‘My goal was to highlight the differences between the graphic qualities of the comic-book illustrations and the dimensionalized versions of them represented in the sculptures’.
Works in North Gallery evidence a formal shift in Kelley’s series, as the artist moves beyond the polished, finish-fetish surfaces of earlier works to employ organic, rock-like forms and textures, conglomerations of lumps of discarded resin, and found objects from the studio to portray the shrunken city and its environs.
As early as 2009, Kelley began to conflate his two major ongoing projects – The Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction series, thirty-one iterations of which were seen in his groundbreaking ‘Day is Done’ exhibition of 2005 and the Kandors series. The Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction series used photographs from high school yearbooks that Kelley saw as ‘folk rituals and entertainments’ to create live-action narratives that staged his investigation of repressed trauma. The video installation ‘Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstruction #35 (Dour Gnomes)’ (2010) links to the Kandors series through a narrative that transports the viewer inside the city of Kandor.
The climax and coda to the Kandors series, ‘Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude)’ (2011), is a cavernous installation spread across the East Gallery. Exhibited for the first time in Los Angeles, this epic work is presented together with the EAPR #36 video ‘Vice Anglais’ – an unsettling, but humorous, satire that collides psychosexual and sadomasochistic drama with a repertoire of parodic clichés derived from British Hammer Horror films.
The blackened exterior of Kelley’s monumental fortress, ‘Kandor 10B (Exploded Fortress of Solitude)’, contains a dimly lit cave-like environment surrounded by fragmented boulders, a gas tank, hoses, a buck, and chains, which evokes a haunting sense of unease and menace. Here, the artist shifted his formal investigations from color, light, and transparency to ambitious sculptural gestures inflected by darkness and opacity. ‘Exploded Fortress of Solitude’ is a ruin of textured, black-hued, faux boulders and slabs that draws viewers inside by the sheer force of its scale and mystery, while the murmuring acoustics of ‘Vice Anglais’ layer the atmosphere with tension and anticipation. In the video, the ‘Exploded Fortress of Solitude’ serves as the backdrop for the exploits of Kelley’s gang of perverts; visitors exploring the cave are likewise subjected to the unsettling whimpers and debauchery of the ‘English Vice.’
One of the final works of the Kandors series, ‘Exploded Fortress of Solitude’, suggests a dramatic denouement for the fated city, a possible catharsis not only for Superman, but also for Mike Kelley, and for us. It emblematizes the extraordinary articulation between his two great serial enterprises of the 21st century that preoccupied Kelley in the years before his untimely death: Kandors and the Extracurricular Activity Projective Reconstructions (of which ‘Vice Anglais’ was the 36th and final installment, along with its pair, ‘EAPR #36B [Made in England]’, in which the dialogue of #36 is spoken by a variety of mostly ceramic objects ‘made in England’). From within the depths of Superman’s fortress, the visitor is reunited with the city of Kandor, now rendered as a glowing rose-colored emanation encased beneath a bell jar. Eerily illuminating the darkness of the rocky chamber, the roseate Kandor reveals that the crevices of Superman’s solitary sanctuary actually glitter with tiny gold trinkets. The Fortress of Solitude has indeed exploded. Chaos has triumphed over order and long years of preservation have succumbed to galactic cataclysm – but we are left with a pot of gold. At the limit of loneliness and trauma, in an uncanny archaic place, we encounter a glittering symbol of duality – of hope and life, of wealth and greed.