2012 Whitney Biennial Dedicated to Mike Kelley

The Los Angeles artist left behind an unfinished work of public art

kelley portrait1 2012 Whitney Biennial Dedicated to Mike Kelley

Mike Kelley.

In this week’s New York magazine, Carl Swanson writes about Los Angeles artist Mike Kelley, who died on Jan. 31, at the age of 57, and reveals that the 2012 Whitney Biennial, which opens March 1 and includes Kelley’s work, has been dedicated to him.

Mr. Swanson reports that three videos produced by Kelley and the English public-art group Artangel will be on view in the exhibition. They document the travels of the artist’s Mobile Homestead, a replica of his childhood home, on the back of a flatbed truck through Detroit in 2010, a project realized with with the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit (MOCAD).

It turns out that Kelley had planned to expand the house into a larger-scale public artwork. Here’s Mr. Swanson:

The façade of the house was created out of a trailer home. The plan was to “take it to high schools to show kids what conceptual art is,” says [MOCAD founding director Marsha] Miro. When not on the go, it would be joined with a stationary reproduction of the rest of the house, built next to MOCAD, creating a complete version of the original. Kelley specified that a two-story bunker would be built underneath, containing a studio where he, and others he selected, could work. … The aboveground part of the house was to be public and do-gooderish, and contain “a free barbershop and community-education programs and act as a mailing address for the homeless population,” says Miro.”

According to Ms. Miro, Kelley signed a contract with MOCAD and Artangel, on the day he committed suicide, to build the larger project, though in the biennial’s catalogue he apparently expresses his doubts that funding will ever come through to realize the artwork’s public programs. Given the timing, though, Ms. Miro says, “In our minds, and I hope in the minds of those who were administering his estate, this was a signal to them—that he wants this to go ahead.”