In 1986 Mike Kelley did an installation and a performance at the Artist Space in New York, which he entitled Plato's Cave, Rothko's Chapel, Lincoln's Profile. Ten years later he reconstructed the installation for his individual exhibition at the Museu d'Art Contemporani de Barcelona, though this time with no performance and without Sonic Youth. In 1986 it was the first time he had staged all his interests: a biting criticism of the values of the Western system, and in particular the American one, through the use of music and performance, defending an art that was both irrational and conceptual. This installation is a cave or cavern. The entrance is blocked by an enormous picture with an inscription: "Crawl worm. When spelunking sometimes you have to stoop... Sometimes you have to go on all fours...Sometimes even crawl." The spectator discovers that he does indeed have to crawl like a worm underneath the picture in order to get inside the cave. If, as the title says, this is the cave of Plato's ultimate truths, the visitor will find a structure made of papier-mâché. First he has to pass through a curtain with a vertical red slit, like the opening of a vagina. Opposite two other pictures are hung. In one of them we can see an impression of Kelley's body, in the other images that look like a Rorschach test. On the opposite side to the entrance, a fake fireplace raised up like an altar; at the sides large sheets of coloured material that might recall Mark Rothko. The colour of each one corresponds to the colour of a bodily fluid: excrement, urine, semen, blood. Plato, Rothko and Lincoln represent the Western ideals of knowledge, art and politics. Here they show their "truth": the ideology of comfort of the American middle class is ridiculed, reduced to a fake fireplace; and the spiritual colour of Rothko is the colour of body waste. Kelley calls into question the seriousness with which art, knowledge and politics disguise themselves, the possibilities, in short, of enlightened knowledge. Faced with such seriousness and such knowledge, he proposes an anarchic gut reaction: we must remember that we have to crawl like worms to get inside his work. More than that, physicality dominates everything: sex is constantly present, metaphorically, in bodily fluids, in figures from psychoanalysis and, of course in the vagina that we have to go through to enter the cave. None of that is good according to the traditional values of right-thinking people. Kelley deconstructs those values, questions them and degrades them, whereas he ennobles what is considered low or lost. In a final ironic, incorrect twist, it is the work that seems to be a caricature of itself: a caricature of a work of art, a caricature of a cavern in papier-mâché.
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