Categorical Imperative and Morgue

  • 1999
  • Mike Kelley
  • objects: various materials; collages: ink & offset (clippings) on paper; audioguide
  • afmetingen variabel
  • Location not on view.
  • Acquired in 2000
  • Inventory number 2431
  • met steun van / with support of Stichting Promotors Van Abbemuseum & Mondriaan Fonds

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This installation consists of 33 groups of second-hand objects and 39 collages. The objects are mainly set out on the floor in numbered groups. There is an accompanying audio guide in which Kelley describes his thoughts about the origin, function and significance of each one of the objects. Every group has a title which indicates the common name of the objects that have been put together. In many cases this is a similarity in terms of form, such as 'Orange and Conical' or 'Wire Frames'. Sometimes there is a similarity between the objects in terms of content, as in the case of 'Patriotism' or 'Science Table'. The collages on the wall consist of illustrations from books and magazines. Some of the collages have an explicit theme, but for others it is difficult to discover a connecting link. Many of the illustrations relate to significant people or moments in American history such as the murder of J.F. Kennedy.

In this installation Kelley used all the things which he had collected and kept for twenty years with the intention to create art with them, but did had proved useful for earlier works. In this work he is not only literally clearing up, but also spiritually clearing up. He asked himself why he had acquired and kept these things. He said: “I thought that this task would force me to focus on some of my artistic prejudices.” He started this work by categorizing things. There is no fixed composition in the group of objects created in this way. The groups do not have a set place in relation to each other either. When he arranged them Kelley did try to achieve some diversity in sizes, heights and weights because “this looks more interesting than things of the same size at the same low level.”

When making a work of art an artist can work with different starting points. He can arrange elements such as colour, form, material and structure aesthetically; he can use art as a means to raise social issues; he can make work as a means to express his feelings or obsessions; he can ask questions about the place or the functions of art. Kelley’s work deals with all these aspects. He does not opt for one or other of them, but actually weakens a specific vision by providing all sorts of possibilities for interpretation at the same time. In 'Categorical Imperative and Morgue' he literally and metaphorically turns everything upside down with the intention of focusing not only on his own artistic prejudices but also on those of the viewer.

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