Mike Kelley was born in Detroit, Michigan, in 1954. He grew up in a lower-middle-class family, attended a Catholic elementary school, and went on to study art at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. Kelley’s work often sources his earliest experiences and memories—from the repeating image of his childhood home to the architectural layouts of the schools he attended. In college, Kelley formed the experimental noise band Destroy All Monsters, with Jim Shaw, Cary Loren, and Niagara. The band heavily influenced his art career, performing together, at irregular intervals, for decades.
In the mid-1970s, Kelley moved to Los Angeles. He studied at California Institute of the Arts, graduating in 1978. Kelley developed a wide-ranging practice marked by a promiscuous relationship to media and a voracious appetite for the vernacular side of American culture. Projects by the artist were often realized through a combination of performance, writing, drawing, sculpture, video, and music, all bent toward a conceptual purpose. Kelley pushed against ideologies based on traditional structures of morality. He mined behaviors repressed by these worldviews, using forbidden and profane thoughts and images in his work.
Kelley took inspiration from and sourced underground music, B-movies, comic books, pornography, pulp novels, toys, psychedelic art, and the work of artists outside of “official” art world narratives. He said, “my entrance into the art world was through the counter-culture, where it was common practice to lift material from mass culture and ‘pervert’ it to reverse or alter its meaning…. Mass culture is scrutinized to discover what is hidden, repressed, within it.” Monumental, multifaceted projects often occupied the artist for years. Many of the works in The Broad collections are representative of some of Kelley’s most well-known projects.
After living, teaching, and working in Los Angeles for almost forty years, Kelley’s death by suicide in 2012 at the age of 57 was a devastating loss to the international arts community. He is considered one of the most influential artists in the history of the city.