Monday, February 3, 2014

Mike Kelley | Vaseline Muses

Mike Kelley
Vaseline Muses (Why I Got Into Art)
Cologne, Germany: Jablonka Galerie/Walther Konig, 1991
184 pp., 13.5 x 20.5 cm., softcover
Edition of 1000

Attributed to ‘anonymous’, Kelley's first artist book details what initially attracted him to the world of contemporary art – naked women. The book features 22 black & white photographs (some rare, some well-known) of naked women, mostly from performance art, actions, happenings and avant-garde theatre. The photographs range from 1924 (Bronja Perlmutter cropped from the Man Ray photograph of Adam and Eve, a tableau vivant featuring her and Marcel Duchamp) to 1986 (Karen Finley's performance with groceries). Other works include Lynda Benglis' Artforum advertisement featuring her posing with a dildo, Carolee Schneemann's Interior Scroll and images of Cheri Gaulke, Hannah Wilke, Valie Export and Yoko Ono.

Rather than reproductions, the images are rephotographs, shot through a petroleum jelly smeared lens, (a process known as vaselensing) to produce a slightly blurry effect. The technique brings to mind the sleazy soft-core erotica of David Hamilton. It also imbues the images with a tinge of nostalgia and longing, perhaps a sense of missed opportunity for the artist, who was a few years too young to be at the centre of the sixties sexual revolution (he also grew up in a Michigan suburb). The irony of reducing images of rebellious radical feminist performance art to masturbation fodder is not lost on Kelley, but the project carries a sense of sincerity (and maybe a little shame).

The double-sided book features a text in German and translated into English. The images appear censored in the English half of the book, blacked out with large rectangles obscuring the entire image. German cultural critic Diedrich Diederichsen contributes an introduction. He writes about imagery, pornography and adolescence, not of "the heroic years of puberty after 14 or 15", but of "the horrible years before that, between 11 and 13".

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